Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League

Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League

The Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA) is an international self-help organization founded by Marcus Garvey. It was originally chartered under the name "Universal Negro Improvement and Conservation Association and African Communities League" (the word "Conservation" later removed) in Jamaica on August 1, 1914. The organization is also known as the [http://www.unia-acl.org UNIA-ACL] or simply the UNIA.

In an article entitled " [http://www.isop.ucla.edu/africa/mgpp/sample01.asp The Negro's Greatest Enemy] ", published in Current History (September 1923) Garvey explained the origin of the organization's name: :"Where did the name of the organisation come from? It was while speaking to a West Indian Negro who was a passenger with me from Southampton, who was returning home to the West Indies from Basutoland with his Basuto wife, that I further learned of the horrors of native life in Africa. He related to me in conversation such horrible and pitiable tales that my heart bled within me. Retiring from the conversation to my cabin, all day and the following night I pondered over the subject matter of that conversation, and at midnight, lying flat on my back, the vision and thought came to me that I should name the organization the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities (Imperial) League. Such a name I thought would embrace the purpose of all black humanity. Thus to the world a name was born, a movement created, and a man became known."

According to the preamble of the 1929 constitution as amended, the UNIA is a "social, friendly, humanitarian, charitable, educational, institutional, constructive and expansive society, and is founded by persons desiring to the utmost to work for the general uplift of the people of African ancestry of the world. And the members pledge themselves to do all in their power to conserve the rights of their noble race and to respect the rights of all mankind, believing always in the Brotherhood of Man and the Fatherhood of God. The motto of the organization is 'One God! One Aim! One Destiny!' Therefore, let justice be done to all mankind, realizing that if the strong oppresses the weak, confusion and discontent will ever mark the path of man but with love, faith and charity towards all the reign of peace and plenty will be heralded into the world and the generations of men shall be called Blessed."

Amongst the auxiliary components of the UNIA were the Universal African Legion, a paramilitary group; the African Black Cross Nurses; African Black Cross Society; the Universal African Motor Corps; the Black Eagle Flying Corps; the Black Star Steamship Line; the Black Cross Trading and Navigation Corporation; as well as the Negro Factories Corporation.

Early history

Before Garvey had traveled the U.S. there were very few organizations that fought for blacks rights. Rarely did people even think that blacks deserved the same as whites even with amendments that tried to make that clear. After traveling throughout the United States beginning in March 1916, Garvey inaugurated the New York Division of the UNIA in 1917 with 13 members. After only three months, the organization's dues-paying membership reached 3500. "The Negro World" was founded August 17, 1918 as a weekly newspaper to express the ideas of the organization. Garvey contributed a front-page editorial each week in which he developed the organization's position on different issues related to people of African ancestry around the world, in general, and the UNIA, in particular. Eventually claiming a circulation of five hundred thousand, the newspaper was printed in several languages. It contained a page specifically for women readers, documented international events related to people of African ancestry, and was distributed throughout the African diaspora until publication ceased in 1933.

In 1919 the UNIA purchased the first of what would be numerous Liberty Halls. Located at 114 West 138th Street, New York City the building had a seating capacity of six thousand. It was dedicated on July 27, 1919. Later that year the Association organized the first of its two steamship companies and a separate business corporation.

Incorporated in Delaware as a domestic corporation on June 27, 1919, the Black Star Line, Inc. (BSL) was capitalized at ten million dollars. It sold shares individually valued at five dollars to both UNIA members and non-members alike. Proceeds from stock sales were used to purchase first the S.S. Yarmouth and then the S.S. Shadyside. The Shadyside was used by the Association for summer outings and excursions, as well as rented out on charter to other organizations. The BSL later purchased the Kanawha as its third vessel. This small yacht was intended for inter-island transportation in the West Indies and was rechristened the S.S. Antonio Maceo.

Also established in 1919 was the Negro Factories Corporation, with a capitalization of one million dollars. It generated income and provided jobs by its numerous enterprises, including a chain of grocery stores and restaurants, steam laundry, tailor shop, dress making shop, millinery store, publishing house and doll factory.

With the growth of its membership from 1918 through 1924, as well as, income from its various economic enterprises, UNIA purchased additional Liberty Halls in the USA, Canada, Costa Rica, Belize, Panama, Jamaica, and other countries. Furthermore, UNIA purchased farms in Ohio and other states. It purchased land in Claremont, Virginia with the intention of founding Liberty University.

First international convention

By 1920 the association had over 1,100 divisions in more than 40 countries. Most of the divisions were located in the United States, which had become the UNIA's base of operations. There were, however, offices in several Caribbean countries, with Cuba having the most. Divisions also existed in such diverse countries as Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Venezuela, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, India, Australia, Nigeria, Namibia and Azania/South Africa.

For the entire month of August 1920, the UNIA-ACL held its first international convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The 20,000 members in attendance promulgated the The Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World [Wikisource contributors, "The Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World," Wikisource, The Free Library, [http://en.wikisource.org/w/index.php?title=The_Declaration_of_the_Rights_of_the_Negro_Peoples_of_the_World&oldid=189864 The Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World] (accessed October 6, 2007).] on August 13, 1920, and elected the leaders of the UNIA as "leaders for the Negro people of the world". The organization put forth a program based on "The Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World", marking the evolution of the movement into a black nationalist one. It sought the uplift of the black race and encouraged self-reliance and nationhood. Amongst the declarations was one proclaiming the red, black and green flag the official banner of the African race. (Beginning in the 1960s, black nationalists and Pan-Africanists adopted the same flag as the Black Liberation Flag.) UNIA-ACL officially designated the song "Ethiopia the land of our fathers" as the official anthem of "Africa and the Africans, at home and Abroad".

Under the provisions of the UNIA constitution, Gabriel Johnson was elected Potentate; G. O. Marke, Supreme Deputy Potentate; J. W. [H] . Eason, leader of the fifteen million "Negroes" of the United States of America; Sam Biglari, Chief Communications Officer; and Henrietta Vinton Davis, International Organizer. Garvey was elected "Provisional President of Africa", a mostly ceremonial title.

Liberia program

Although UNIA was not solely a "Back to Africa" movement, the organization did work to arrange for migration for African Americans who wanted to go there. In late 1923, an official UNIA delegation which included Robert Lincoln Poston and Henrietta Vinton Davis travelled to Liberia to survey potential landsites. They also assessed the general condition of the country from the standpoint of UNIA members interested in living in Africa.

By 1924 the Chief Justice J.J. Dossen of Liberia wrote to UNIA conveying the government's support: "The President directs me to say in reply to your letter of June 8 setting forth the objects and purposes of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, that the Government of Liberia, appreciating as they do the aims of your organization as outlined by you, have no hesitancy in assuring you that they will afford the Association every facility legally possible in effectuating in Liberia its industrial, agricultural and business projects."

About two months later, however, the Liberian President unexpectedly ordered all Liberian ports to refuse entry to any member of the "Garvey Movement". Some historians fail to note that his action closely followed the Firestone Rubber Company's agreement with Liberia for a 99-year lease of one million acres (4,000 km²) of land. The land deal had been assisted by American and European governments. Originally Liberia had intended to lease the land to UNIA at an unprecedented dollar an acre ($247/km²). The commercial agreement with Firestone Tire dealt a severe blow to the UNIA's African repatriation program.

Post-Garvey Era

After Garvey's conviction and imprisonment on mail fraud charges in 1925 and deportation to Jamaica in 1927, the organization began to take on a different character. In 1926, George Weston seceeeded Mr. Garvey in a UNIA Convention Election, becoming the next 2nd elected President-General of the UNIA, Inc. This angered many Garvey supporters and as a result spawned many rival entities such as the "Garvey Clubs" and other organizations based on members' differing interpretation of the original aims and objects of the UNIA.

As a result, the UNIA continued to be officially recognized as the "Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, " and a rival "UNIA-ACL August 1929 of the World" emerged, headed by Marcus Garvey after his deportation to Jamaica.

The UNIA, Inc

The UNIA, Inc., after Mr. Garvey's departure, continued to operate out of New York until 1941. After George Weston's 1926 election to President-General, he was seceded by Frederick Augustus Toote (1929), Clifford Bourne (1930), Lionel Antonio Francis (1931 - 1934), Henrietta Vinton Davis (1934-1940), Lionel Antonio Francis (1940-1961), Captain A L King (1961 - 1981) and Milton Kelly, Jr. (1981 - 2007).

In a historic 1939 British Supreme Court decision, President-General Lionel Francis was recognized as the rightful administrative heir to the huge Sir Isaiah Emmanuel Morter(DSOE) Estate in Belize. The organization's administrative headquarters then shifted to Belize in 1941 when the President-General relocated there from New York.

Upon his death in 1961 during Hurricane Hattie, the Presidency shifted back to New York under the leadership of Captain A L King, formerly President of the Central Division of the UNIA in New York.

After his death in the early 1980s, longtime Garveyite Organizer Milton Kelly, Jr. assumed the administrative reigns and continued to head the Association until 2007.

The UNIA-ACL 1929 of the World

The UNIA 1929 headed by Mr. Garvey continued operating in Jamaica until he moved to England in 1935. There he set up office for the Parent Body of the UNIA 1929 and maintained contact with all its divisions. UNIA 1929 conventions were held in Canada during 1936, 1937 and 1938. The 1937 sessions were highlighted by the introduction of the first Course of African Philosophy conducted by Garvey. In January 1940 Garvey became ill. He died on June 10, 1940. UNIA members worldwide participated in eulogies, memorial services and processions in his honor. Secretary General Ethel Collins briefly managed the affairs of the UNIA from New York until a successor to Garvey could be formally installed to complete his term as President General.

During an emergency Commissioners' conference in June 1940, James R. Stewart, Commissioner from Ohio and graduate of the Course of African Philosophy, was named the successor. In the months to follow, the Parent Body of the UNIA was moved from its temporary headquarters in New York to Cleveland. In October 1940 the "New Negro World" started publishing out of Cleveland. After the 1942 International Convention in Cleveland, a rehabilitating committee of disgruntled members was held in New York during September.

Parent Body in Monrovia

Stewart moved to Monrovia, Liberia in 1949. He took Liberian citizenship and moved the Parent Body of the UNIA there. He continued to lead the Association as President-General until his death in 1964.

From August to September 1949, the rehabilitating committee held a conference in Detroit, Michigan. Following that conference, the committee denounced the leadership of President Stewart and the UNIA became fragmented once again.

Former High Chancellor Thomas W. Harvey became President General of the new faction. An international headquarters was established in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after a conference was held there in August 1951. Although some divisions severed ties with the Monrovia Parent Body after the Rehabilitation Conference, a number also continued to report to Monrovia consistent with the laws in the constitution.

The first International Convention held under President General Harvey occurred in August 1953. William LeVan Sherrill was elected President General then. As First Assistant President General, Sherrill had previously served as acting President General beginning in 1925, during the time when the UNIA's founder Garvey was incarcerated. During his administration, Sherrill claimed to have 36 divisions associated with the Philadelphia Parent Body.

Harvey was elected President General in August 1960. Prior to his election, the UNIA began publication of the third house organ, a monthly newspaper entitled "Garvey's Voice". President Sherrill resigned in December 1958 and Harvey became Acting President General of the UNIA. Harvey then held the post for nearly 20 years, winning re-election every four years until his demise in June of 1978.

When Stewart died in 1964, the Parent Body was moved from Monrovia to Youngstown, Ohio, where James A. Bennett took the reins. In 1968 Bennett was succeeded by Vernon Wilson.

After President-General Wilson's death in 1975, Mason Harvgrave became next President General. Hargrave testified during the congressional hearings in August 1987 in relation to the exoneration of Marcus Garvey on charges of mail fraud. The findings of the Judiciary Committee were: Garvey was innocent of the charges against him. Although the Committee determined he had been found guilty earlier due to the social climate of America at the time, they had no legal basis upon which to exonerate a person who was deceased.

After President General Hargrave died in 1988, all his papers and other Parent Body material were turned over to the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio for safe-keeping. From 1988 until the present (2007), the Honorable Cleo Miller, Jr. has held the title of President General.

Philadelphia parent body

International conventions were held in Philadelphia during August 1973 and 1976. The UNIA Executive Council elected Charles L. James to complete the unexpired term of Thomas W. Harvey on July 1, 1978. In August 1980 the 28th International convention was held in Philadelphia. Conventions were held annually from August 1981 to August 1986. Two of which were held in Chicago. At the 34th Annual Convention in Chicago, Illinois Louis Farrakhan gave the keynote speech on the role of Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and Elijah Muhammad in his development. When President General Charles Lynell James died on August 16, 1990 he was the last surviving graduate of the Course of African Philosophy taught by Marcus Garvey. Reginald Wesley Maddox succeeded James as President General on August 26, 1990. In August 1992, Marcus Garvey, Jr. was elected President-General during the convention held in Washington, DC. He held that office until retiring by not seeking reelection during the 2004 convention. During the UNIA's 90th anniversary and the controversial 47th International Convention, Redmond Battle was elected the current President General of the UNIA-ACL Rehabilitating Committee.

Notable members of the UNIA

*Marcus Garvey
*Henrietta Vinton Davis
*John Edward (Bruce) Grit
*Lionel Antonio Francs
*Clifford Bourne
*Captain A L King
*Hubert Henry Harrison
*Timothy Thomas Fortune
*Thomas Watson Harvey
*Arnold Josiah Ford
*Benjamin E. Burrell
*Charles Lynell James
*Thomas W. Anderson
*George Osborne Marke
*William LeVan Sherrill
*William H. Ferris
*Eric D. Walrond
*James Walker Hood Eason
*Robert Lincoln Poston
*Capt. Emmett L. Gaines
*James R. Cato
*Elie Garcia
*Arnold Lemuel Crawford
*Joseph Henderson Stewart
*Honorable Clifford Bourne
*E.R. Matthews
*Dusé Mohamed Ali
*Henry James Ramsay
*Norman Burton
*L.A. Davis
*S.B. Martin
*G.R. Christian
*Alberta Porter
*Henry Harris
*Mrs. Henry Harris
*M.A. Figueroa
*T.E. Smith
*Rev. D.L. Reed
*Effie Stepter
*Wheeler Sheppard
*Amy Jacques Garvey
*Hugh Mulzac
*Shirley Chisholm
*Rev. James Robert Lincoln Diggs
*Zora Neale Hurston
*Joseph Robert Love
*Chief Alfred Sam
*Isaac B. Allen
*Irene Moorman Blackstone
*Walter J. Conway
*Carrie B. Mero
*Harriet Rogers
*Isaac S. Bright
*Irene W. Wingfield
*James Hamble Perkins
*Clarence A. Carpenter
*Fleming Du Bignon Webster
*Sidney Smith
*Janie Perkins
*Julia E. Rumford
*Daisy Dunn
*Amy Haynes
*James Haynes
*Henry Dolphin
*Granzaline Marshall
*Hucheshwar G. Mudgal
*Andrew G. Pio
*James Robert Stewart
*Vernon Wilson
*James Bennett
*Mason Hargrave
*Mamie Leona Turpeau DeMena-Aiken
*Samuel Alfred Haynes


External links

* [http://www.unia-acl.org Official UNIA-ACL website]
* [http://www.republic-of-liberia.com/vol1_no9.htm Contemporary Voices Vol.1 No.9: Marcus Garvey's Impossible Dream]
* [http://www.isop.ucla.edu/africa/mgpp/ The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers Project]
* [http://www.marcusgarvey.com Marcus Garvey: The Official Site]
* [http://www.galegroup.com/pdf/scguides/universalnegro1/uniawrintro.pdf Gale Group guide to UNIA]
* [http://www.isop.ucla.edu/africa/mgpp/sample01.asp American Series Sample Documents] -- Volume I: 1826--August 1919

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