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The Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA)

Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) was a West Indian by birth and revolutionary by
disposition. Garvey dedicated his life to what he called the "uplifting" of the Negro peoples of the world through the creation of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and the African Communities League. Like Malcolm X of a later generation, he believed that Negroes could never achieve equality unless they became independent—founding their own nations and governments, their own businesses and industrial enterprises, their own military establishments—in short, those same institutions by which other peoples of the world had risen to power.

The youngest of 11 children, Garvey was apprenticed to a printer at the age of 14. He moved to Kingston in 1903 after a severe hurricane destroyed the last remaining piece of land on his mother's estate. Once in the Jamaican capital, he found work as a foreman in a print shop, and soon became acquainted with the abysmal living conditions of the laboring classes. He participated in the first Printers' Union strike on the island, but came away so disillusioned by its total failure that he accepted a post with the Government Printing Office. At the same time, he developed a private political organization (The National Club), and began publishing a house organ entitled "Our Own."

Finding it impossible to maintain both his job and his outside interests, Garvey left government service and founded a more ambitious newspaper called "The Watchman." With funds failing, however, he found it necessary to leave Jamaica in hopes of earning enough money abroad to finance his projects at home. While visiting Central and South America, he amassed ample evidence to support his thesis that colored peoples everywhere were victims of discrimination.

Back again in Jamaica in 1911, he founded the organization to which he was to devote his life: the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). The organization did not immediately catch fire, inasmuch as many Jamaicans were opposed to the idea of an organized black majority, or else feared the consequences of offending the strongly entrenched, European-based power structure on the island. Undaunted, Garvey left for England in 1912 in search of additional financial backing for his schemes. While there, he worked for an Egyptian scholar, and learned much of the history of Africa—particularly with reference to the exploitation of black peoples by colonial powers. But his earnings were meager, and so in 1914, he returned to Jamaica, where he intensified his campaign to recruit supporters and spread his ideas, though with little immediate success.

In 1916, acquainted with the work of Booker T. Washington, he came to the United States, where he formulated what he called the "Back to Africa" program for the resettlement of the Negro in his ancestral homeland. In New York City particularly, his ideas attracted popular support, and his oratory convinced thousands to enroll in the UNIA. After having founded a newspaper ("The Negro World"), he toured the United States preaching Negro nationalism to popular audiences. In a matter of months, he had founded over 30 branches of the UNIA.

Garvey's most ambitious business venture during this period involved the founding of a Negro steamship company - "The Black Star Line." By encouraging the more than 1.5 million UNIA members to purchase shares in the company, he was able to acquire three vessels and put them into service between New York, Central America and the West Indies.

It was not long before he became embroiled in a dispute with the New York District Attorney's Office, which threatened to sue him for criminal libel after he had published a highly critical article on the methods it had used in investigation his company. During this time, to complicate matters even further, an unsuccessful attempt was made on his life.

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circulate that Garvey's real intention was to seize power in Liberia and build a personal empire there. Liberia eventually withdrew all support from the venture, leaving Garvey stunned from the realization that he had actually been rebuffed by a black African Nation.

With the Black Star Line in serious financial difficulties, Garvey soon found himself obliged to work doubly hard. Under his promotion, two new business organizations were set up - the African Communities League and the Negro Factories Corporation. He also tried to salvage his colonization scheme by sending a delegation to the League of Nations with instructions to appeal for the transfer to the UNIA of those African colonies taken from Germany during World War I.

In 1920, Garvey and his followers convened a 31-day international conclave in Madison Square Garden in New York City, where they presented a policy statement on the "Back to Africa" program, and proclaimed a formal "Declaration of Rights" for Negroes all over the world. Following this, Garvey set himself the task of negotiating for the repatriation of Negroes in Liberia (West Africa). Rumors quickly began to


[[caption]] JAMES VANDERZEE/BLACK CROSS NURSES, c. 1924/G.G.G. STUDIO [[/caption]] 

[[caption]] JAMES VANDERZEE/GARVEY MILITIA, 1921/G.G.G. STUDIO [[/caption]] 

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