Jamaica – Marcus Garvey, The Black Star Line

The Black Star Line was a steamship company completely owned, operated, and financed by people of African descent. Marcus Garvey (1887-1940), a Jamaican national and master propagandist, was the leader of this venture. He was a Black nationalist and a leader of the Pan-Africanism movement which sought to unify and connect people of African descent worldwide. In July 1914, he launched the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and became the president and traveling commissioner. Their motto was “One Aim. One God. One Destiny” and focused their commitment to “establish a brotherhood among the Black race, to promote a spirit of race pride, to reclaim the fallen and to assist in civilizing the backward tribes of Africa.”

Garvey saw the Black Star Line as the solution to the Black community’s problem; a company completely owned, operated, and financed by Black people would foster pride, free up economic dependency on the White community, and create a strong economic base in the only independent nation in West Africa, Liberia. Similar to Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, Marcus Garvey felt that economic development for Black people would allow for social and political advancement.

The Black Star Line also became popular because of its intention to provide non-discriminatory travel for people of African descent. At this time, many steamship companies did not allow Black people to purchase first-class tickets. The BSL empowered Black people across the diaspora. Colonial governments in Africa, the Caribbean, and Central America felt threatened by this symbol of freedom and power. For example, colonial governments in the Caribbean banned The Negro World, the UNIA’s newspaper. These governments feared that the rise of the Black Star Line would cause Black people to recognize their oppression and fight for economic independence and political freedom.