September 14, 2011

Marcus Garvey movement owes large debt to Caribbean expats, UCLA historian finds

By Meg Sullivan

This article, by Meg Sullivan, was originally run by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Newsroom, August 18, 2011. We will be following up with an excerpted essay by historians Nigel Westmaas and Juanita de Barros on the UNIA in British Guiana.

Conventional wisdom has long held that Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which advocated racial self-help and the unity of the African diaspora, grew out of the heady political and cultural environment of the Harlem Renaissance and benefited African Americans above all other black people. Any Caribbean role, according to this view, was separate and incidental to the primary legacy bequeathed to American race relations by the charismatic Jamaica native.

Now a UCLA historian argues the reverse in the first book of a multi-volume series on the Garvey movement and the Caribbean. From the UNIA’s organizational structure to its most valuable foot soldiers during its first half-decade, Garvey’s Caribbean links were indispensable to the movement’s success, and the region ultimately proved to be its most important theatre, contends Robert A. Hill in “The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers: The Caribbean Diaspora 1910–1920.”

Researching the volume “was an eye-opener in many, many ways,” said Hill, a UCLA history professor and a leading authority on Garvey and the UNIA, which began in Jamaica but attained its greatest influence after Garvey established it in the U.S. in 1917. Caribbean nationals, both in America and abroad, Hill says, were the seed that grew the movement.

“Although the movement developed here and was based in America, it was predominantly a Caribbean movement, at least until federal prosecution of Garvey in the early 1920s drew the attention of African Americans and galvanized their support of him,” he said.

“The Caribbean Diaspora 1910–1920” is scheduled to be published by Duke University Press. With more than 400 documents, many of them newly discovered, it is the opening salvo in the third and final series of a vast collection of primary materials by and about Garvey and the UNIA, considered the largest mass political movement in black history. Highlights from the volume include Garvey’s earliest known published work, a 1911 letter to the editor of a newspaper in Costa Rica, where he was living among fellow Caribbean expatriates employed on banana plantations; a 1912 letter to a Belize newspaper criticizing social conditions under British colonial rule in that country; and a 1920 letter written from New York to the governor of British Guiana in which Garvey says that the majority of his followers are from the English-speaking West Indies.

Read full article here.

1 comment:

David said...

Hi Annalee,

I really appreciated your kind e-mail, which I'll be replying to shortly. This is an interesting post. Are you familiar with the Virgin Islands' link with this movement? Hubert Harrison, from St. Croix, was particularly instrumental. Here's some info that readers may enjoy:

All the best,