Anointed the “Black Moses” for his efforts to connect and unify people of African ancestry around the globe, Marcus Garvey was born in Jamaica in 1887. As the island country’s inaugural National Hero, and the leader of the first Black mass protest movement in United States history, he’s considered one of the most influential activists of the 20th century – inspiring the likes of Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, Kwame Nkrumah, and countless key figures in the fight for racial justice worldwide.

The son of a stonemason and domestic servant, Garvey left school at fourteen to work at a print shop, where he got involved in the local labor union. Later studying law and philosophy in London, he picked up work for a Pan-Africanism newspaper and led public debates in Hyde Park. On returning to Jamaica, Garvey started the Universal Negro Improvement Association, an anti-colonial organization aimed at uplifting Black people globally through the celebration of African history and culture.

In the United States, Garvey went on a lecture tour and established a UNIA branch in Harlem, campaigning for unity between Africans and the diaspora, and an end to European colonial rule across the continent. Rooted in the belief that Black people need to achieve economic freedom from white-dominated society, Garvey launched various business efforts in the U.S., including the Negro Factories Corporation, the Negro World newspaper, and a shipping company called Black Star Line.

Largely self-educated, Garvey was an avid reader with a penchant for poetry, politics, and New Thought philosophy. Woven throughout the volume Life And Lessons: A Centennial Companion to The Marcus Garvey And Universal Negro Improvement Papers a collection of autobiographical papers produced by Garvey in the period from his 1925 imprisonment to his 1940 death – is a reading list of books that informed his beliefs on Black consciousness, prosperity, and self-determination.

From the autobiography of Booker T. Washington to Dale Carnegie’s self-improvement manifesto, find a selection of Garvey’s literary influences below. Complement with the recommendations of anti-racist activists The Black Panther Party, Howard Zinn, Malcolm X, MLK, Nelson Mandela, Nipsey Hussle, Tupac Shakur, and Rage Against the Machine.


Elbert Hubbard’s Scrap Book by Elbert Hubbard

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

A Book Of Verses by William Ernest Henley

Poems by Walter Savage Landor

Up From Slavery: An Autobiography by Booker T. Washington

My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass

The Gospel Of Wealth by Andrew Carnegie

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (also rec’d by Bruce Lee)

Poems of Progress and New Thought Pastels by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Poems of Pleasure by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

The Heart of New Thought by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

God and the Negro by Alonzo Potter Burgess Holly

From Superman to Man by J.A. Rogers

Politics by Aristotle (also rec’d by MLK)

Aristotle by Alfred Edward Taylor

The Republic by Plato (also rec’d by Carl SaganMartin Luther King Jr. & Viggo Mortensen)

Laws by Plato

Symposium by Plato (also rec’d by Carl Sagan)

After Two Thousand Years: A Dialogue Between Plato and a Modern Young Man by Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (also rec’d by Bill Maher & David Copperfield)

Poems Of Purpose by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

The Bible (also rec’d by Brandi CarlileCarl SaganLeonard CohenMartin Luther King Jr.Maya Angelou, Morgan Freeman, Mr. RogersNick CavePenn Jillette & Vincent van Gogh)

The Qu’ran

Anti-Negro Propaganda in School Textbooks by The NAACP

Scott’s Official History of the American Negro in the World War by Emmett J. Scott

Jesus Christ Had Negro Blood in His Veins: The Wonder of the Twentieth Century by W. L. Hunter

Das Kapital by Karl Marx (also rec’d by Angela Davis & Nick Cave)

The Communist Manifesto by Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx (also rec’d by Ai Weiwei & Angela Davis)

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (also rec’d by E.O. WilsonJames Mattis, Matt Haig & Ted Koppel)

Speeches, Lectures, and Letters by Wendell Phillips

The Origins of the World War by Sidney Bradshaw Fay

Toussaint L’Ouverture: A Biography and Autobiography by James Redpath

Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889-1918 by The NAACP

Black Manhattan by James Weldon Johnson

Home to Harlem by Claude McKay

Negro Builders and Heroes by Benjamin Brawley

Universal Ethiopian Hymnal compiled by Arnold Josiah Ford

The Kebra Nagast

The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson (also rec’d by Colin Kaepernick)

Being And Becoming: A Book of Lessons in the Science of Mind Showing How to Find the Personal Spirit by Fenwicke Lindsay Holmes 

The Secret Of Success by William Walker Atkinson 

Lessons in Living by Elizabeth Towne

Short Lessons In Divine Science by Nona L. Brooks

A-B-C of Truth: 35 Lessons for Beginners in New Thought Study by Brown Landone

(via Life And Lessons; list compiled by @1HUNDREDD)

Categories: Activists Writers