Marcus M. Garvey (1887–1940) was president of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL), an organization that offered hope to millions of African people in the United States and worldwide. In the early twentieth century, Garvey had large followings in Denver and Colorado Springs. Although Garvey himself spent little time in Colorado, his organization inspired hundreds of black Coloradans to be proud of their history and build strong communities.
The rise of Garveyism in the United States, Africa, and other regions of the African Diaspora was due largely to mass mobilization efforts to unite Africans across the world. In the United States, African American men had fought for democracy in World War I. However, when they returned home to Jim Crow laws, they were forced to live in segregated areas in Denver and other American cities.
Thundering, spellbinding, persuasive, and inspiring, Marcus Garvey’s voice was also pragmatic in positioning the African predicament on the same continuum as other global liberation movements. Garvey’s political outlook had many sides: one was to give America to the Ku Klux Klan and avoid whites, and a second was to encourage Negroes globally to live and build institutions either in Africa or other locations of the African Diaspora. Garvey was the first to communicate this message to a large population of African American Coloradans who felt proud of their race for the first time. He also encouraged them to continue their self-help education, as Booker T. Washington had instructed them years before, in his efforts to build up a Black Nation and live as a community within a community. Under Garvey’s leadership, the UNIA-ACL had over 800 branches across five continents, with a reputed membership of 6 million.
Although the African American population in the Rocky Mountain region was relatively small, Garveyism attracted a following in Denver and Colorado Springs during the early 1920s. In Denver, the African American population represented the region’s largest concentration of individuals and families who embraced Garvey’s prophetic message to establish a common belief in black pride, economic development, and nationhood. In Colorado Springs, the local chapter of the UNIA-ACL was headquartered at the People’s Church. The two Colorado divisions of the UNIA-ACL had served as a collective response to the KKK’s terrorist threats as Garvey was embarking upon organizational tours in the region in 1922 and 1924. While on bond as a result of a miscarriage of justice, Garvey rallied black Coloradans to fight for a free and redeemed Africa, and to demand their citizenship and economic rights in the United States. Despite his mounting troubles, Garvey proclaimed in Colorado in October 1924 that “I was in jail last August. I am ready to go back to jail or hell for the principles of the Universal Negro Improvement Association.” Some men, he argued, make a big noise about jail. In an FBI report, Garvey was quoted as saying, “Now you tell the whole world that Marcus Garvey does not care a damn about jail, when it comes to the emancipation of 400,000,000 Negroes.”
Local and regional activists of the two Colorado divisions requested assistance and support from Garvey. He, along with his wife Amy Jacques, his personal secretary, and two other UNIA officials, arrived in Colorado Springs on May 23, 1922, to deliver a rousing public address. After leaving Colorado Springs, Garvey traveled to Denver, where he delivered two addresses on behalf of the Denver Division of the UNIA-ACL. However, when the couple returned in 1924, both spoke before the two Colorado Divisions. Garvey spoke in Denver at Fern Hall on October 5, 1924, while Amy Jacques delivered a speech in Colorado Springs at People’s Methodist Episcopal Church on the evening of October 13, 1924.
Immediately after leaving Colorado Spring on October 14, 1924, Garvey traveled to Detroit, where he continued to garner support from members of the second largest UNIA-ACL chapter in US history. Garvey was soon notified to return to New York, where he was arrested, imprisoned, and expected to serve a five-year prison term in the Atlanta Federal Prison. After serving only two years, Garvey’s sentence was commuted by President Calvin Coolidge. However, because Garvey was not a US citizen and convicted on a felony, federal law required his immediate deportation. Upon his release in November 1927, Garvey was deported, leaving New Orleans for Jamaica.