Marcus Garvey was a strange man with seemingly impossible ambitions. None of this, however, compares to the unbelievable story of how the pioneering Pan-Africanist read an announcement of his death in the newspaper two weeks before he died.
Robert S. Abbott, an African-American lawyer and businessman born to parents who had been liberated from slavery, launched the Chicago Defender in 1905. The Chicago Defender was widely recognized among America’s Black people by the 1940s, when Garvey died, as a key source of news and a forum for the intellectual defense of Black humanity in America.
Some of the most prominent African-Americans to sit behind a typewriter may be found among the published authors of the Chicago Defender. Ida B. Wells, Langston Hughes, Louis Lomax, and Gwendolyn Brooks were among them. Clearly a prestigious journal, it defies belief that the Defender’s premature announcement of Garvey’s death was caused by editors who were hostile to Garvey’s radical Black nationalism and hence rushed to press with a rumor. Or it could have been a genuine blunder.
Garvey was a man who stood up for the emancipation of Black people worldwide and the American government did all in its power to pull him down and dismantle his army of conscious and elitist black people in America and beyond. Booker T. Washington was motivated by a review of one of his biographical works that described him as a self-made man. W.E.B. DuBois was a socialist and a scholar, but Garvey was neither. Rather, he was a political organizer and a businessman. Looking back, one can understand the enormity of his efforts, as well as the fact that the seeds he planted yielded Malcolm X and Huey P. Newton.
However, there is little question that Garvey would have been dissatisfied during his latter years in a rented property in London.
Following his struggles in the United States, he was deported after being charged of mail fraud. Garvey divorced his wife and children and moved to London in 1935, leaving his wife and children in Jamaica. Despite being the century’s leading proponent of Black people returning to Africa, he never visited the continent himself.
Garvey suffered a stroke in January of 1940. It was the most serious occurrence in his rapidly declining health situation to date. Garvey did, however, survive the stroke, but with irreversible damage. He was a guy conscious and mobile in his west London home by May. At the very least, he was well enough to read a recently delivered issue of the Chicago Defender.
After years of being “destitute, alone, and hated,” the issue’s title read, “Marcus Garvey Dies in London.” Garvey’s decline towards actualizing the premature announcement, according to his personal secretary, was immediate after receiving the report. He died two weeks later, on June 10, 1940, at the age of 52.