"One of the extraordinary things about the Garvey movement is the fact that much of the major work was completed in about seven years," said Howard Dodson, chief of the Schomburg Center, a research center in Harlem that is part of the New York Public Library system. "What is equally extraordinary is the high degree of organization that made that kind of development possible."
Garvey died in London in 1940 at age 52. His legacy as an activist, orator, newspaper publisher, philosopher and entrepreneur is commemorated in "Marcus Garvey: The Centennial Exhibition," which opened yesterday at the Afro- American Historical and Cultural Center.
Included among more than 300 artifacts are letters written by Garvey, photographs, his birth certificate and draft card, government documents, and a stock certificate from the steamship line he founded to link the United States, the Caribbean and Africa for commerce.
The Black Star Line - for which Garvey raised capital by selling $5 shares through the mail - eventually went bankrupt, leading to Garvey's conviction on mail fraud charges, two years in prison and his deportation from the United States in 1927.
Many of Garvey's supporters are convinced that he was prosecuted for his militant political beliefs. One of his most radical proposals was to promote a ''Back to Africa" movement among blacks worldwide. Garvey also began wearing a type of dress military uniform and proclaimed himself provisional president of an African Republic that never came to be.
At the height of Garvey's popularity in the 1920s, membership in his Universal Negro Improvement Association ranged between 1 million and 2 million. As many as 6 million blacks worldwide took part in projects or activities launched by Garvey, Dodson said.
After Garvey's deportation, UNIA membership declined as other organizations took up its causes. One of its last surviving chapters is at 1611 W. Cecil B. Moore Ave.
The exhibit, supported by the Kodak Corp., was assembled two years ago to mark the 100th anniversary of Garvey's birth in St. Ann's Parish in 1887.
It was prepared by the Schomburg Center in collaboration with the Marcus Garvey and UNIA Papers Project at UCLA, where its overseer, Robert Hill, has collected more than 30,000 items of Garvey memorabilia. The exhibit has previously been seen in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
IF YOU GO
"Marcus Garvey: The Centennial Exhibition" will run through Dec. 31. The Afro-American Historical and Cultural Center, 7th and Arch streets, is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; noon-6 p.m. Sunday. The museum is closed Mondays. Admission is $3.50 for adults, $1.75 for children, senior citizens and the handicapped. Group discount rates available. Info: 574-0380.