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  • "To Keep Alive the Teaching of Garvey and the Work of the UNIA"Audley Moore, Black Women's Activism, and Nationalist Politics during the Twentieth Century
  • Keisha N. Blain (bio)

"I have done everything I could to promote the cause of African freedom and to keep alive the teaching of Garvey and the work of the UNIA."1

—Audley "Queen Mother" Moore

Audley "Queen Mother" Moore had fond memories of Marcus Garvey, the charismatic black nationalist leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), the largest and most influential global black nationalist movement of the twentieth century.2 Recounting a story in a 1973 interview with the Black Scholar, Moore vividly describes the first time she heard Garvey speak in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1920:

We heard that Garvey was coming to New Orleans, but the police would not allow him to speak. Garvey came and they arrested him. The people raised so much sand until they had to let him out the next night.

When local police officials tried to block Garvey from speaking during the second night, Moore describes a tense scene in which she and others pulled out [End Page 83] guns in defense of Garvey's right to speak.3 She explained it this way: "I had two guns-one in my bosom and one in my pocketbook . . . Everybody was told, and everybody knew they had to come armed. We wanted that freedom." Standing with a crowd of black supporters—all with guns in the air—Moore joined the chorus of voices shouting, "Speak, Garvey, speak!"4

Moore's first encounter with Garvey that evening marked the beginning of her political journey into black nationalist and radical politics.5 In Moore's words,

Garvey brought something very beautiful to us—Africa for the Africans. He made us conscious of the fact that we belong to a big continent, with all of its gold and diamonds and riches . . . That we were somebody . . . That we had a right to be restored to our proper selves.6

Amidst the social and political upheavals of the post-World War I era, many black men and women across the globe embraced Garveyism—Garvey's race-based philosophy centered on black pride, political self-determination, economic self-sufficiency, and African redemption (from European colonization). Building on the ideas of earlier black leaders—including founder of the Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington, Pan-Africanist Martin Delany, and African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Bishop Henry McNeal Turner—Garvey advocated a militant response to global white supremacy, calling on people of African descent to assert their political agency and demand their God-given rights.7 Millions in the black diaspora heeded Garvey's call during the 1920s. "They invested their hopes in Garveyism," historian Adam Ewing argues, "not because it offered a panacea, or even immediate relief, but because it invested their parochial politics with a diasporic identity and global vision."8

Significantly, the UNIA functioned as a political incubator in which many became politicized and trained for future leadership. During a period in which black women were generally confined to the drudgery of domestic work, Garveyism provided a sense of empowerment, and within the UNIA women found opportunities to serve in a variety of both public and private roles.9 This is not to suggest that women found equal opportunities to men, but it underscores how the organization was, in some ways, one of the most progressive black organizations of the period. Unlike many other race organizations, women in the UNIA were "well integrated into the movement's structure" and constitution.10 According to historian Ula Y. Taylor, the organization

. . . went beyond [simply] carving out an auxiliary niche for women by developing a system in which each local division elected a male and female president and vice president.11 [End Page 84]

In this way, the UNIA provided a space for some women to maintain visible leadership positions.

This essay examines Audley "Queen Mother" Moore's engagement with Garveyism and sheds light on her political activism in the UNIA. During a period in which black women had limited access to formal politics, the UNIA provided a public platform for Moore and...


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