Marcus Garvey (1887-1940), a Jamaican printer, founded and led UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association), the largest Black mass movement of the 1900s in the US. It reached its height in the early 1920s. The FBI broke its back, but Garveyism would go on to shape the thinking of Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam, Rastafarians, Kwame Nkrumah and others.
In the early 1900s, the three main Black leaders in the US were, in order of appearance:
- Booker T. Washington (Tuskegee Institute): education, boostraps, respectability politics
- W.E.B. Du Bois (NAACP): civil rights, winning court cases, integration.
- Marcus Garvey (UNIA): Black nationalism, Black unity, Black pride, Black businesses, Back to Africa.
Of these, Garvey had by far the most appeal. UNIA, unlike the NAACP or Tuskegee, did not depend on White people.
Du Bois on Garvey:
“Marcus Garvey is, without doubt, the most dangerous enemy of the Negro race in America and in the world. He is either a lunatic or a traitor.”
Garvey was on good terms with the NAACP’s biggest enemy: the Klan! Like the Klan, Garvey believed in segregation, racial purity and sending Blacks back to Africa. Garvey was a huge fan of Booker T. Washington.
Having seen Jamaica, the US, Britain, Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela and elsewhere, Garvey said Blacks were held back by:
- Self-hatred, which made them hate each other, making it hard to act as one.
- Having no country, army, navy or government of their own.
- A weak and divided Africa, which could not protect her own, at home or abroad.
UNIA would bring Blacks together and create an empire in Africa.
It had the beginnings of a Black state:
- A constitution,
- A flag – the Red, Black and Green (pictured above),
- Black businesses, like one that made Black dolls,
- A shipping line – the Black Star Line,
- A newspaper – The Negro World,
- Men in arms,
- Black Cross nurses,
Based in Harlem, it had millions of members, Malcolm X’s father among them. It had branches in dozens of countries.
The crown jewel was to be the Black Star Line, which would return people to Africa and carry on trade between Blacks in the US, the Caribbean and Africa.
Liberia set aside land outside of Monrovia for UNIA. UNIA hoped to start sending tens of thousands of people beginning in 1924. But when Garvey’s technicians returned to the US from Liberia, they were arrested and deported.
US President Coolidge sent Du Bois to Liberia. After that Liberia cooled to UNIA. The land went instead to Firestone, a White American rubber company.
And then Garvey himself was thrown in prison and later deported. The FBI nailed him on fraud in the sale of shares in the Black Star Line. Garvey was no business man – his books were a mess, the Black Star Line itself was failing. But even worse, Garvey acted as his own lawyer in the trial.
UNIA was never the same again. It proved hard for Garvey to run it from Jamaica, then still under British rule.
– Abagond, 2015.
- Back to Africa
- Black self-hatred – aka internalized racism
- Booker T. Washington
- Malcolm X
- Che Guevara
- Scramble for Africa