marcus garvey and the universal negro improvement ... garvey and the universal negro improvement...

Download Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement ... Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association

Post on 17-Jun-2018




0 download

Embed Size (px)


  • Marcus Garvey and the Universal NegroImprovement Association (UNIA): With SpecialReference to the "Lost" Parade in Columbus, Ohio,September 25,1923



    Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNI A) made a tremendous impact on the social consciousnessof African descended peoples throughout the world in the I920s-I930s. African Americans were particularly influenced bv lhephilosophy and opinions of Garvey and lhe UNI A. The key scholars in Garveyism (such as Amv Jacques Garvev, E. DavidCronon, Tony Martin, Robert A. Hill, Rupert Lewis, and John Hetirik Clarke) have mainly foctLsed on the macro aspects oftheGarvey movement with tittle focus on the tnicro characteristics.. For example, what was the nuanced Garvev experience at thelocal bratich/ chapter level in various cities? This qtiestion leads into this exploratory study of a Mid- Western US city: Columbus.Ohio. Marcus Garvey and the UNI A had tremendous support in Ohio and this article will put the movement in context via whatcan be deemed a "lost" parade that took place in Columbus. Ohio, on Tuesday September 25, 1923. What is most significantabout this knowledge is that it provides an insight into and establishes the popularity ofthe UN!A during a time when MarcusGarvey was being hounded by the established order.


    The scholarship and analysis regarding the MarcusGarvey movement is varied and profound in relation tothe macro perspective. Today there are both contempo-rary and secondary sources available that provide greatinsight into the philosophy and practice of Garveyismand its key organization, the Universal Negro Improve-ment Association (UNIA). Arguably, most notableamong these studies are: Amy Jacques Garvey (1970),E. David Cronon (1955). John Henrik Clarke (1974),Robert A, HilK 1983-1986. 1989-1990), Tony Martin(1976, 1983), and Rupert Lewis( 1988). In addition, wemust acknowledge the sterling editorial work ofGarvey's second wife, Amy Jacques Garvey (1895-1973), in compiling The Philosophy & Opiniotxs of

    Marcus Garvey, contained in two volumes and pub-lished in 1923 and 1925 respectively (see Garvey. 1986;Taylor, 2002, p.3). Collectively, the above scholarshipprovides a significant foundation in comprehending thegreatest example of Black Nationalism to have impactedthe modem world. Indeed, nothing has emerged sincethe high point ofthe Garvey era f 1920s) to surpass itsimpact as a Pan-African movement in organizing themasses of Black peoples of African heritage.

    In regard to the extent of Garvey's UNIA infra-structure throughout the world during the 1920s. Mar-tin (1976, p. 15) estimates there being almost one thou-sand organized branches. The majority of the UNIAbranches were located in the United States, with over270 covering most parts of the world, but mainly in

    Mark Christian, Ph.D.. n an associattf profesaur in Black world stud-ies and soiiolo^y at Miami University-Hamilton. He is a seniorFulbright scholar and the author/editor of three hooks He has pub-lished numerous articles on Black British and African American e.x-periences. His latest edited volume i.s entitled Black Identity in the20th entury: Expressions of the VS and UK African Diaspora.

    424 The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 2H, No. J, 2004

  • Africa, the Caribbeati, Central and South Atnerica. AsMartin (1976. p. 17) contends: "No area of significantblack population in the world was without a UNIAbranch. This included Canada. Europe and Australia."By any measurement one uses to estimate it is plainthat in the eariy 1920s Marcus Garvey's message ofradical Black Nationalism was cogent and lucid enoughto tnobilize millions of African descended peoples.

    The Message of Marcus Garvey and the UNIA

    The message of Marcus Garvey and the UNIA haslargely been either distorted or discredited. Distortedin the sense that history, until the onset of the CivilRights and Black Power eras in the 1960s, did not ap-preciate the influence of Garveyism: and discredited interms of Garvey being portrayed largely as a naive busi-nessman and radical demagogue. However, a carefulstudy of the Garvey papers and scholarship reveals avery different picture (see Hill, 1983-1986; Martin1976). Garvey was a complex man who was. for ex-ample, inspired by the renowned accommodationist.Booker T Washington. Washington sought both socialseparation, to appease white southern hegemony in thelate nineteenth and eariy twentieth centuries, and a "self-reliance" program for African American social advance-ment, primarily in the southern states. However, unlikeWashington. Garvey's radical self-reliance message wasbased on the need to find a solution to the disenfran-chised experience of African descended peoples all overthe world. Rupert Lewis (1988, p. 50) maintains thatthe initial aims and objectivesof the UNIA were as fol-lows:

    To Establish a Universal Confraternity among therace [Black people].

    To promote the spirit of race, pride and love.

    To reclaim the fallen of the race.

    To administer to and assist the needy.

    To assist in civilizing the backward tribes of Af-rica.

    To strengthen the Imperialism of independent Afri-can States.

    To establish Commissionaries or Agencies in theprincipal countries of the world for the protection

    of all Negroes, irrespective of nationality.

    To promote a conscientious Christian worshipamong the native tribes of Africa.

    To establish Universities. College.^ and SecondarySchools for thefitrther edtication and culture of theboys and girls of the race.

    To conducl a worldwide commercial and industrialintercourse.

    It could be argued that certain aspects of the aboveaims and objectives were ingrained with Western pa-ternalism. Nevertheless, his program and message wasto become the most popular form of radical Black Na-tionalism espoused up to then in the modern world, andit has never to date been surpassed as a movement tomobilize and empower Black peoples against the so-cial forces of white racism and hegemony. The promi-nent Garvey scholar. Tony Martin (1976. p. 360), hasdescribed Marcus Garvey as the major Black figure ofthe twentieth century.

    One may consider the question: Why was Garvey'smessage so powerful and popular to the masses of or-dinary Black peoples throughout the world? Moreover,how was he able to get his message to so many peopleand establish such a strong international foothold viahardworking and dedicated followers? To answer thesequestions there ought to be some understanding of thehistorical context in which Marcus Garvey emerged.First, the early part of the twentieth century was a timeof great socioeconomic struggle for most peoples ofAfrican descent around the world. European colonial-ism was at its height, and the oppression endured byAfrican Americans, particularly in the southern states,was manifestly horrific. Jim Crow segregation andlynching were ubiquitous realities that confronted Af-rican Americans on a daily basis. Overall, Black peoplesthroughout the world met with tremendous societalobstacles with the notion and practice of white su-premacy. This then is the historical social context inwhich the twenty-eight year old Marcus Garvey arrivedin New York, March 1916. having established the Ja-maican UNIA in 1914. his place of birth.

    Prior to Garvey's arrival in the United States, hehad traveled from Jamaica to parts of Central Americaand Europe. On his travels he was seeing for himselfthe extent of exploitation and discrimination enduredby peoples of African descent. He was also formulat-ing in his mind what can now be deemed "a philosophy

    The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 28, No. 3, 2004 425

  • for liberation." According to Amy Jacques Garvey(1970, pp 10-12), in 1914 Garvey traveled back to Ja-maica from Europe and on the journey he contemplateda number of questions: Where was the Black man'sgovernment strong enough to protect him? Where werethe Black man's ships to carry his minerals and pro-duce to make him economically secure? Where werethe Black man's factories to provide employment fortheir people? Why should Black men always walk hatin hand begging white men for jobs? With the found-ing of the UNIA Garvey aimed to build an organiza-tion that would provide practical solutions to the abovequestions facing Black people all over the world.

    In terms of his Pan-African message, Amy JacquesGarvey (1970. p. 10) states that her husband felt thatthere was a universal experience of blackness in oppo-sition to white supremacy that brought together peoplesof African heritage. As she states:

    (Marcus Garvey argued j . . .A black man seemed tohave only one true passport, and that was his blackface: no matter what other passport he presentedas a subject or citizen of any country in which hewas born, his black face finally decided the way heshould be treated, and that was usually as less thana white man.

    In al! things considered it is important to note that atthe core of Garvey's message was the idea of self-prideand self determination. More importantly. Garvey'sview of "Black separatism" ought to be considered as aconsequence of the embedded social relations of histime. After all. mainstream white supremacy was en-dorsed via Jim Crow segregation laws in state and fed-eral policy. In hindsight, should we now considerMarcus Garvey not as particularly "radical," but instead"practical"? In fact his philosophy on social separationwas merely a response to the status quo relations andgeneral white hostility toward Black peoples, whereverhe focused his attention in the world during the teensand 1920s.

    There is little doubt that Marcus Garvey had anunwavering devotion and determination to solve themany problems confronting his people, and this wasclearly evident in the philosophy and pract