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American Series Introduction

Volume V: September 1922--August 1924

The fifth volume of The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers opens in the aftermath of the tumultuous 1922 convention, a convention replete with internal strife, impeachment trials, and a protest by the women delegates regarding their role in the organization. Outside the ranks of the UNIA, a growing list of opponents, including A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen, editors of the Messenger, and Robert Bagnall and William Pickens of the NAACP, launched renewed criticism of Garvey under the slogan "Garvey Must Go." Meanwhile, the United States government continued to press its mail fraud case against Garvey.

This was a period of heightened crisis for the UNIA, the most difficult the movement had ever faced. Nonetheless, the UNIA's delegation to the League of Nations, mandated by the 1922 convention, scored something of a propaganda coup during its three-month stay in Geneva, as a visible sign of the UNIA's self-proclaimed status as a sort of African government in exile. Although the delegation achieved no tangible results, its members were welcomed home at a triumphant Liberty Hall meeting on 30 November 1922. Other officials were similarly dispatched to European capitals, and Garvey himself proposed making a worldwide speaking tour in 1923.

During the 1922 convention, Garvey gained virtually complete control of the UNIA by silencing his opposition, but he gained this control at the cost of increasing disaffection inside, and dissent outside, the movement. By 1924, of the officers elected at the original 1920 convention, only two---Garvey and Henrietta Vinton Davis---remained. Rev. J. W. H. Eason, impeached during the 1922 convention, emerged as an open rival, and, with J. Austin Norris, another former UNIA stalwart, he attempted to constitute a competing UNIA under the name of the Universal Negro Alliance.

Eason, by then a potential prosecution witness in Garvey's mail fraud trial, was assassinated in New Orleans in January 1923, and two UNIA adherents, William Shakespeare and Constantine F. Dyer, were charged with the crime. Although initially convicted of manslaughter, they were acquitted in August of the following year. The Bureau of Investigation's agents believed that Esau Ramus, a minor UNIA official who had recently been sent by Garvey to the New Orleans division, was the real assassin. While it is impossible to determine Garvey's role in the killing (he denounced it, and attributed the murder to Eason's "woman affair") (Negro World, 13 January 1923), the publicity surrounding the assassination of Eason cast a pall over the movement and did Garvey no small damage.

Garvey's relations with colleagues such as William H. Ferris were never the same after the Eason incident. Many in the UNIA leadership opted to give confidential statements to the government. For some of Garvey's internal critics, Eason's murder was implicitly the culmination of the ever-widening split between the West Indian and African-American factions. Meanwhile, the delays in Garvey's mail fraud trial (caused by both prosecution and defense) became a new focal point for his critics outside the movement. Eight prominent African-Americans, among them William Pickens, Chandler Owen, Robert Bagnall, and Robert Abbott, petitioned the attorney general demanding the deportation of the black leader. Garvey responded quickly to the "Garvey Must Go" campaign with a flurry of press releases, articles in the UNIA's Negro World, and public speeches, attacking his black opponents and questioning both their political motivation and their racial character.

As Garvey awaited bail in Manhattan's Tombs Prison following his conviction, a series of internecine feuds, fueled in part by his own actions, erupted within the UNIA. His frequent absences from the UNIA's New York headquarters in order to raise funds for his defense had already opened the way for dissent among subordinates. In an attempt to quell such internal dissension, in June 1923 Garvey unseated four UNIA officials---E. L. Gaines (international organizer), Rudolph Smith (third vice-president), G. O. Marke (supreme deputy), and Henrietta Vinton Davis (fourth vice-president). The following month Vernal Williams departed as attorney for the UNIA, leaving behind a variety of legal entanglements, and in September William H. Ferris resigned as literary editor of the Negro World. While Davis and Smith remained loyal to Garvey (and were reelected by the 1924 convention), the other departing officers successfully sued the UNIA for back salaries. Garvey canceled the 1923 conclave, most likely because he was fearful of losing control of a convention that, because of his incarceration, he was unable to attend. Instead, he instructed local UNIA divisions to meet regionally. The cancellation of the by-then-traditional August convention contributed both symbolically and structurally to the movement's deepening demoralization.

Released on bail in September 1923 pending his appeal against conviction, Garvey moved quickly to consolidate his hold over the movement, while simultaneously developing a new political strategy. This new strategy involved, first, a repackaging of his old message, the need for ships. The defunct Black Star Line became officially reconstituted in March 1924 as the Black Cross Navigation and Trading Company, which finally succeeded in acquiring the S.S. General Goethals from the United States Shipping Board. The acquisition came just in time for UNIA convention delegates to tour the ship in August 1924, although it was not officially launched until mid-January of the following year.

The second part of Garvey's new strategy took the form of his attempting to reduce white antagonism against him. His speech "An Appeal to the Soul of White America" was later reprinted as a pamphlet. As a means of furthering his legal appeal, Garvey also mounted an extensive letter-writing campaign to U.S. government officials, enclosing copies of his latest book, Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, the first volume of which appeared in December 1923. Consisting largely of epigrams and speeches by Garvey that had been published in the Negro World, the volume was subtly edited to enhance his image among the white public. It was at this time that Garvey also announced his intention of entering the political arena. By marshaling black voters, Garvey hoped to offset the perceived influence of his black opponents.

Although this period saw Garvey making his most explicit antisocialist denunciations---indeed, Garvey's speeches after 1922, immediately following Benito Mussolini's accession to power in Italy, resonated with rhetoric characteristic of the Italian Fascist movement---he nonetheless greeted with optimism the formation, in January 1924, of Britain's short-lived first Labour government, under Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. "I knew that as soon as I was able to get out of this country, and approach the British Government, especially the present Labour Government," Garvey told the convention in August of that year (referring to his earlier announcement that he intended to undertake a worldwide speaking tour, which was never to materialize), "I felt sure that we would have had Southern Nigeria or somewhere else, and we would have had more land than we want[,] to carry out the program of the UNIA." Garvey now seemed to change his tack from its rightward course and welcomed the momentary British turn to the left.

Not all of Garvey's efforts met with failure, and many reforms proposed at the 1922 convention were instituted. The publication of special Spanish and French Negro World sections attested to the growing Garveyite movement in non-English-speaking areas abroad. Likewise, the establishment of the Negro World's women's page, edited by Amy Jacques Garvey, helped meet the needs of women members. Entitled "Our Women and What They Think," the special page presented a broad overview of women's issues, featuring articles on the achievements of women college graduates, a woman who retained her name after marriage, and the role of women in the Philippines. These items all shared the limelight with recipes, cosmetics advertisements, and advice on such questions as the proper age for matrimony. More important, this official recognition of Amy Jacques Garvey on the Negro World's editorial masthead signified her own increased position within the movement. As her husband's personal emissary, she wielded influence as well as direct power.

The Negro World during this period was not immune to the tensions faced by the UNIA. Compared to other black newspapers of the time---papers such as the Chicago Defender and the New York Age---early issues of the Negro World had been noteworthy for their lack of advertisements for skin-lightening and hair-straightening products. It would seem that financial problems, exacerbated by Garvey's legal costs, forced a change in policy; by November 1923 the Chicago Whip noted that Garvey "has been quite successful in cluttering up his paper, the Negro World, with hair straightening advertisements and face bleaches."

Although Garvey had announced at the outset of 1923 that "the Executive Council of the Association and myself personally are contemplating holding the next convention in Liberia," the August 1924 convention took place as was customary, in the UNIA's Liberty Hall in Harlem. Liberia did, however, prove to be the convention's most pressing problem. In December 1923 the UNIA sent Robert Lincoln Poston, Henrietta Vinton Davis, and J. Milton Van Lowe to attempt to negotiate its second colonization plan with Liberian officials. The UNIA delegates believed that its meetings with the Liberians boded well, so much so that Poston cabled Garvey his news in a single word---"success." However, by the following July the UNIA's hopes for a base in Liberia lay in ruins. Only a few weeks before the convention opened, the Liberian consul general in the United States, Ernest Lyon, issued a press release announcing his government's refusal to grant visas for colonization purposes to UNIA members.

Some comparisons between the 1924 convention and the previous meeting in 1922 reveal the political tensions and demographic shifts within the movement at this juncture. Although the size of the New York local's delegation, the largest at both conventions, remained virtually the same---with thirty members in 1924, as opposed to thirty-one two years earlier---the local itself had become so merged with the UNIA parent body that its growing lack of a separate identity was proving to be problematic. According to Bureau of Investigation reports, members of the New York local resented the parent body's reliance on their contributions; they likewise objected to their division's president blending local and parent-body concerns to such an extent that "it is practically impossible for the local to function independently" (special report, 12 April 1923, DJ-FBI). Even the Garvey Defense Fund reflected the shift in UNIA membership, as contributors were more likely to be coal miners from western Pennsylvania or West Indian migrant workers in Central America than the old reliable crowd from New York and the eastern seaboard of the United States (special report, 30 December 1922, DJ-FBI). Another indication of change was the reduction of the California and Pennsylvania delegations from their 1922 levels, because of disputes within their two principal divisions. Conversely, a number of the black belt southern states (Arkansas, Georgia, and Mississippi), as well as coal-mining West Virginia, markedly increased the size of their convention delegations.

In all, nearly a hundred new charters were issued in 1924; together with the 105 charters that were then also pending, the movement now encompassed some fourteen hundred separate branches, more than half of which were located in the United States and Canada, with the remainder spread throughout the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Africa.

In general the 1924 convention was peacefully conducted; it was also the largest and the best-documented of Garvey's meetings, to which James Van Der Zee's famous photographs give eloquent visual testimony. Some of the movement's elder statesmen, however, were absent: Gabriel M. Johnson, the former potentate, had by now broken with Garvey and held a lucrative post in the Liberian government as its consul to Fernando Po; and death had claimed the venerable black journalist John E. Bruce at the age of sixty-eight. More significant was the premature passing of Robert Lincoln Poston, who died at the age of thirty-three aboard ship, as he returned from Liberia with the UNIA delegation in March 1924.

Nevertheless there was a noteworthy addition to the convention in the person of a distinguished African guest, Prince Kojo Tovalou-Houénou of Dahomey, editor of the Paris-based black nationalist newspaper Les Continents, who addressed the convention and attended the UNIA's court reception. Called "the Garvey of Africa," he was a living symbol of the interest that the UNIA had generated in francophone Africa. Moreover, former members who had long been absent from the UNIA, notably Fred A. Toote of Philadelphia and Rev. George Alexander McGuire, founder of the African Orthodox Church, returned to the fold. McGuire, indeed, led the convention to take one of its most controversial stands, in the form of "the canonization of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Black Man of Sorrows" ("seeing Him through the eyes of blackness") and "the canonization of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a black woman" (report of Special Agent Joseph G. Tucker, 7 June 1924, DJ-FBI). The convention also formulated plans for organizing the Universal Negro Political Union, a step ironically out of keeping with Garvey's previous policies, since he had urged his followers to eschew politics.

Despite the UNIA's despair over the failure of its Liberian plan, the convention ended with membership of the movement diminished but intact, and with internal dissent quelled, at least temporarily. Garvey's African-American critics, pleased at his federal conviction, now entered a period of quiescence. And although Garvey's energies would have to continue to be employed in fighting his appeal, the movement's ideas still continued to spread, taking root in new places and informing new struggles.

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