- The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, Vol. XI: The Caribbean Diaspora, 1910–1920
Since the publication of the first volume of this collection more than two decades ago, Robert A. Hill’s Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers has served as an indispensable source to understanding the impact and spread of the ideals of Marcus Garvey and his organization throughout the African diaspora. The letters, writings, and speeches in this current volume delve intricately into the West Indian side of the Garvey phenomenon that to this point has been neglected in the scholarship on the movement. By beginning the volume in 1910 (prior to the founding of the movement in 1914) Hill situates Garvey and his organization within the context of early twentieth-century West Indian history in which the impact of British [End Page 737] colonial neglect manifested itself in a variety of ways. Issues such as color and class prejudices, elite monopolization of land ownership, a declining sugar industry and its low wages, and the lack of educational opportunities for large segments of the population created circumstances in which emigration to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Central and South America, and the Spanish Caribbean were the only viable options for improving the political, economic, and cultural realities of the masses of West Indians. As one document in the volume from a Grenadian contributor to the UNIA paper The Negro World stated in 1919, “the system of government, the hardships being endured by the working class, the lack of general move for uplift and advances of the masses along economic lines, the want of unity . . . made me leave” (p. 367). This mass movement and the West Indian diaspora it created, served as the largest and most dedicated membership in the UNIA. Much has been written about Garvey’s impact in the United States and Africa; however, this volume demonstrates that Garvey’s most lasting political and cultural legacy was in the British West Indies.
The sources in the volume reveal that while Garvey and the UNIA were appealing to West Indians abroad because of a shared Caribbean heritage, the fact that the organization was based in the United States and beyond the reach of British suppression made it an incubator for anticolonial and independence movements in the Caribbean. Several figures instrumental in the Caribbean fight for independence in the twentieth century honed their protest and organizational skills while members of the UNIA. Hill notes that the movement was sponsored largely by West Indian migrants “emancipated” in Central America and Cuba, as well as veterans of World War I who fought in the British West Indian regiments and felt entitled to better treatment from the British government upon completion of their service. The Central American and Cuban chapters comprised West Indians working in the sugar and banana industries in Cuba and Central America, as well as workers in the Panama Canal Zone, and were some of the most active and vocal chapters. When many of these migrants were repatriated to their home countries, they utilized the skills learned within the UNIA abroad to challenge their governments at home to improve political, economic, and social conditions. The foundations of trade unionism in the Caribbean and the worker solidarity and nationalism it promoted are apparent in several of the documents in this volume.
The documents in the volume related to the UNIA chapters in Central America suggest that one of the major accomplishments of the organization was its ability to quell insularity within the West Indian [End Page 738] migrant communities. In a document from a Panamanian newspaper, a report on a speech given by Miss Henrietta Vinton Davis, a UNIA organizer emphasizes her desire for West Indians in Panama to “put away what she considered a great impediment in the way of unity, that insularity which she found existed among West Indians” (p. 493). The idea of unity among West Indians is further emphasized in the...