American Series Introduction
Volume III: September 1920--August 1921
The third volume of The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers documents the period between the first and second international conventions of the UNIA. The success of the August 1920 convention justified Garvey's expanded emphasis on African redemption and established his movement's substantial following in scores of black communities around the world. By the time the August 1921 convention came around, the UNIA was the major political force among blacks in the postwar world. Circulation of the Negro World, the movement's newspaper, increased from twenty-five thousand at the start of 1921 to seventy-five thousand copies by the middle of the year, so that not only did it become self-supporting, it also contributed over $1,000 every month to the UNIA's general treasury. Counting newspaper employees and distributors, along with officials and staff members of the Black Star Line and the UNIA, William Ferris, the Negro World's literary editor, estimated that by July 1921 Garvey's movement provided employment for nearly two hundred persons in New York and nearly two hundred others in various parts of the world.
Even as the second convention deliberated, however, there arose ominous signs of crisis within the movement. Garvey's lieutenants began to express doubts about the financial health of the Black Star Line and about the wisdom of Garvey's methods in raising money for his Liberian colonization and trade scheme. At the same time, the UNIA's various fund-raising projects had not been able to support the over $70,000 in annual salaries promised to UNIA officials who had been elected by the 1920 convention. By the end of August 1921, the Yarmouth (the BSL's flagship) was no longer in service, and the Kanawha (a yacht) was disabled and tied up in Cuban waters; the Shadyside (the Hudson River excursion boat), meanwhile, was losing money. At this point, the entire BSL enterprise hovered on the brink of bankruptcy. Moreover, a steep general decline in the shipping business made prospects for the Black Star Line even less promising.
The momentum gathered at the August 1920 convention allowed Garvey and his aides to begin a new round of promotional tours devoted to selling Black Star Line stock, shoring up weak UNIA divisions, and chartering new divisions. The current volume documents the activities and growth of UNIA divisions in Buffalo; Chicago and Danville, Illinois; Key West, Jacksonville, and Miami, Florida; Louisville, Kentucky; Los Angeles; Okmulgee, Oklahoma; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; and Springfield, Massachusetts. Clear evidence of the movement's growth came at the 1921 convention, when the UNIA secretary-general reported that the number of divisions increased from 95 in 1920 to 418 in 1921, with an additional 422 UNIA branches awaiting charters from the parent body in New York.
From September 1920 to August 1921, BSL stock sales totaled $55,147, a difficult achievement in the face of high black unemployment during the postwar economic slump. Garvey introduced new financial schemes during this time. In October 1920 he replaced his Liberian Liberty bonds promotion with the Liberian Construction Loan, a plan to raise $2 million to finance a UNIA loan to Liberia. In order to stimulate sales and contributions, Garvey issued a circular letter on 1 December 1920 calling for $250,000 by mid-January to secure a ship to convey workmen and materials to Liberia. At this point the Black Star Line and the Liberian Construction Loan were, for all practical purposes, one and the same promotion; indeed, the UNIA Liberian loan campaign was as much concerned with staving off the financial crisis of the Black Star Line as with financing construction in Liberia.
J. Edgar Hoover's long-awaited opportunity to remove Garvey from the African-American political scene came when Garvey embarked on his promotional tour of the West Indies and Central America in February 1921. Hoover had come to believe that the Garvey movement in America was subsidized to some extent by the British government; another government official voiced the equally far-fetched suspicion that Garvey might have been working as part of an international Jewish conspiracy aimed at fomenting revolution. On the basis of these suspicions as well as on evidence of Garvey's radical influence in the black community, Hoover sought the cooperation of the United States State Department to bar Garvey from reentering the United States by denying him a visa. Yet the State Department eventually abandoned the policy of exclusion it had established at Hoover's request and allowed Garvey to reenter the United States. Hoover retaliated by refusing to honor the State Department's request for the Bureau of Investigation's aid in blocking the admission of the UNIA potentate, Gabriel M. Johnson, who arrived from Liberia in July 1921 to attend the August UNIA convention. Johnson's brother, F. E. R. Johnson, was in the United States at that time as a member of the Liberian Plenary Commission negotiating for a United States government loan, and the State Department believed that he was also working on behalf of the UNIA to further its cause in Liberia. Thus, the attempt to keep the UNIA potentate out of the United States supported a larger diplomatic scheme aimed at keeping Garvey and the UNIA from launching their "construction" program in Liberia. In this context, State Department policymakers viewed Garvey's readmission as less significant than Gabriel Johnson's, a conclusion that greatly displeased Hoover.
Garvey faced a curious dilemma in his decision to risk a trip away from the United States despite the sober warnings of his aides, many of his followers, and the black press. Although his advisers anticipated the United States government's attempt to keep him out of the country with the assistance of the British, Garvey knew that without a major fund-raising tour in previously untapped regions, the Black Star Line would soon go under.
Garvey's speeches in the countries that he visited---Cuba, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Panama, and British Honduras (Belize)---challenged local audiences to pursue "a new religion and new politics" and to struggle against "the old-time order of things." Beyond its promotional function, Garvey's tour formed part of a wider UNIA diplomatic offensive: while Garvey was mobilizing support in the Caribbean, UNIA officials in New York were lobbying the visiting Liberian Plenary Commission, which included President C. D. B. King, and the UNIA's delegation in Liberia was asking the Liberian cabinet to set aside land and accommodations for the UNIA construction and colonization program. Garvey's trip also marked a major turning point in the history of the UNIA. Garvey's lieutenants, who were charged with running the UNIA and the Black Star Line during his absence, frequently clashed over unclear lines of authority. At the same time, a quarrel over questions of authority between Cyril Crichlow, Garvey's resident commissioner in Liberia, and Gabriel Johnson and George O. Marke, UNIA potentate and supreme deputy potentate, created severe difficulties for the UNIA, leaving the UNIA's Liberian project at a standstill. Under these circumstances Garvey asked the 1921 convention for control over all UNIA and BSL finances as a means of centralizing authority in his hands. The convention granted him that control and at the same time approved changes in the UNIA Constitution that increased the power of the parent body in New York. According to Garvey's plan, UNIA employees would be recruited from those who passed a UNIA civil service examination, and the executive secretaries of local divisions would be civil servants who would handle all local records and report directly to UNIA headquarters.
When the movement was starting to founder in New York, however, Garvey was preoccupied in the Caribbean with problems of his own. Constant breakdowns of the S.S. Kanawhu and numerous stops for expensive repairs led Garvey to accuse the ship's captain and engineer of incompetence and sabotage. Garvey also encountered colonial authorities throughout the region who viewed his presence with concern: in the case of Bermuda, where he planned to make the first stop of his tour, officials denied him permission to land. Nonetheless, the tour marked a significant political triumph for Garvey. Large crowds greeted him in Cuba, Jamaica, and British Honduras, and thousands mobbed him in Costa Rica and Panama. In addition, he raised funds by selling substantial amounts of BSL stock and raised even greater sums from the gate receipts at his public speeches.
Prior to Garvey's embarking on his Caribbean tour, his speeches revealed an impressive knowledge of world events and developments on the African continent, especially those that pointed toward an increasing spread of the movement. Examples of the Garvey movement's impact in Africa appeared in newspaper reports and official correspondence from South Africa and the Belgian Congo (Zaire), as well as in correspondence from UNIA representatives in Liberia. Yet Garvey's speeches on the eve of his departure also revealed his growing concern about the political consequences of leading a "radical movement." American consular officials would later repeatedly deny Garvey's requests for a visa, lengthening his planned five-week tour to over four months. When Garvey finally returned to New York, in mid-July 1921 his Caribbean experience had given him an even greater appreciation of the level of official antagonism that his movement had provoked.
Perhaps as important as the ever-present threat of increased official repression was the financial crisis that faced the Black Star Line on Garvey's return. The decisive blow came when negotiations with the United States Shipping Board failed to produce the long-awaited ship for the African transatlantic route. Garvey went before the 1921 UNIA convention without the long-promised Phyllis Wheatley, which many delegates expected to see when they arrived in New York.
Facing these mounting troubles, Garvey announced his intention at the outset of the convention to expose and remove unworthy officials of the movement. A series of important resignations followed, including those of the UNIA assistant president general, Rev. John Dawson Gordon, and the UNIA chaplain general, Rev. George Alexander McGuire. McGuire had played a notable leadership role in the UNIA, and while Garvey was away during the spring of I921, McGuire wrote two important works for the UNIA, The Universal Negro Catechism (New York: UNIA, 1921), which drew heavily from the work of J. A. Rogers, and The Universal Negro Ritual (New York: UNIA, 1921).
Garvey also encouraged a freewheeling interrogation of the UNIA's top officials in public sessions of the convention. Garvey himself did not escape criticism, since a number of delegates opposed his methods and ascribed some of the Black Star Line's troubles to his failures. This was particularly the case with the delegates from the UNIA's Los Angeles division.
Garvey's most outspoken challenge at the convention came from the African Blood Brotherhood. The ABB's leader, Cyril Briggs, had joined the Workers' party in the spring of 1921. Shortly thereafter, his offers of unity with Garvey and the UNIA became more tinged with criticism, and his ideological differences with the UNIA's program became more pronounced. Garvey had invited the ABB to send delegates to the 1920 UNIA convention. When he repeated the gesture in 1921, the ABB delegates took the opportunity to raise embarrassing questions about the Black Star Line in convention sessions. Realizing that in 1921 Garvey would not publish official convention news bulletins like those that had appeared during the 1920 convention, Briggs published his own official-looking series of special bulletins, emphasizing controversies on the convention floor. Five days before the convention ended, Garvey expelled the ABB delegates.
With his Liberian plans in disarray and some of his key assistants removed, Garvey launched an aggressive attack at the convention against those black leaders whom he perceived as opponents of the UNIA. He charged them with misrepresenting the UNIA before the United States government and thereby causing his difficulties in reentering the country. Garvey also initiated a controversial campaign to label these political opponents as advocates of "social equality" between the races, while offering as an alternative his philosophy of "racial purity."
Garvey focused his attacks upon W. E. B. Du Bois, whose Second Pan-African Congress opened its first session in London during the final days of the 1921 UNIA convention. Throughout the fall of 1920 Du Bois undertook an extensive investigation of Garvey and of the finances of the Black Star Line, and the results were published in a major two-part article in the December 1920 and January 192I issues of the Crisis. Angered by Du Bois's criticisms and by what he believed was Du Bois's excessive influence on United States officialdom, Garvey hoped to discredit Du Bois and his Pan-African Congress while establishing the UNIA as the sole legitimate vehicle of African redemption, and to neutralize government opposition to his efforts.
The white press began to deepen its coverage of Garveyism during the months immediately after the 1920 convention, and in some cases these publications deviated from the earlier seriocomic approach to the UNIA by examining Garveyism as a major movement contending for support among postwar blacks. A few in-depth reports on the UNIA's history and objectives appeared as a result. During the same months that Du Bois published his report on the Garvey movement in the Crisis, a white journal, the World's Work, published a two-part article on the UNIA, an article that pleased Garvey so much, he recommended it to Negro World readers. Between August 1920 and August 1921, articles on Garvey and the UNIA also appeared in Life, Current Opinion, Literary Digest, Independent, World Tomorrow, and Overseas (a British journal).
Copyright © 1995-2014 The Marcus Garvey and UNIA Papers Project, UCLA