In 1907, he took part in an unsuccessful printer's strike and the experience kindled in him a passion for political activism.
In 1910, he traveled throughout Central America working as an newspaper editor and writing about the exploitation of migrant workers in the plantations.
He later traveled to London where he attended Birkbeck College (University of London) and worked for the African Times and Orient Review, which advocated Pan-African nationalism.
He returned to Jamaica in 1912 and founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) with the goal of uniting all Africans to "establish a country and absolute government of their own advocated political action and a civil rights agenda (he helped found the NAACP in 1909)
He corresponded with Booker T. Washington and traveled to the United States in 1916 to raise funds for a similar venture in Jamaica.
He settled in New York City and formed a UNIA chapter in Harlem to promote a separatist philosophy of social, political, and economic freedom for blacks.
In 1918, Garvey began publishing the widely distributed newspaper Negro World to convey his message.
In August 1920, UNIA claimed 4 million members and held its first International Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Many found his words inspiring, but not all. Some established black leaders found his separatist philosophy ill-conceived.
W.E.B. Du Bois, Garvey, "the most dangerous enemy of the Negro race in America." Garvey felt Du Bois was an agent of the white elite.
On June 23, 1923, Garvey was convicted and sentenced to prison for five years for mail fraud.
In 1927 he was released from prison and deported to Jamaica.
His message of pride and dignity inspired many in the early days of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s including Malcolm X and the Black Panthers