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Introduction In 1916, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, a young Jamaican printer, entrepreneur, and aspiring race leader, sailed into New York harbor. Before the end of the First World War, from his base in Harlem he launched his great mass organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-­ ACL, hereafter UNIA), ostentatiously pledging to redeem both the continent of Africa and its descendants from the thrall of white supremacy. To facilitate industrial progress and generate new mechanisms of commercial wealth, he organized the Negro Factories Corporation and founded a transatlantic shipping company, the Black Star Line, inviting the scattered members of the race to participate as clients, passengers, and stockholders. To begin the process of reclaiming occupied Africa he announced plans to transfer the central operations of the UNIA to Liberia, which was, along with Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), one of the two remaining independent nations on the continent. In August 1920, he hosted a monthlong International Convention in Harlem, the first of four such gatherings, drawing delegates to New York representing Canada, the West Indies, Central America, Africa, and nearly every American state. “We are assembled here tonight as the descendants of a suffering people and we are also assembled as a people who are determined to suffer no longer,” Garvey told a capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden on August 3. “If Europe is for the white man . . . then, in the name of God, Africa shall be for the black peoples of the world.” Delegates crafted a charter, the Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World, to “guide and govern the destiny of four hundred million Negroes.” To great acclaim,Garvey was elected Provisional President of Africa.1 By the early 1920s, the UNIA had attracted tens of thousands of members , and millions of admirers. The rhetoric of “Garveyism” was carried by sailors, migrant workers, and other mobile black subjects to nearly every corner of the African diaspora. But the fall came just as quickly as the rise. Liberian colonization plans were dashed in 1921, and again in 1924, by the combined energies of the British, French, and Liberian governments. The Black Star Line was undermined by poor business management, employee graft,and government intrigue,and slid into bankruptcy in early 1922,costing its enthusiastic investors, most of whom were of limited means, an estimated $900,000.2 Weeks earlier, Garvey had been indicted on charges of mail fraud stemming from advertisements for the Black Star Line’s promised transoceanic vessel, the S.S. Phyllis Wheatley, which never materialized. Convicted on tenuous evidence,Garvey spent three months in the Tombs in New York City.Following a failed appeal,he then spent nearly three years in the federal penitentiary in Atlanta. Released in December 1927, Garvey was 2 • Introduction transported to New Orleans and put on a ship to Jamaica, never to set foot again in the United States. Unable to resurrect the fortunes of the UNIA’s central infrastructure from abroad, the organization continued its decline, splitting into two factions following the contentious International Convention of 1929 in Kingston. Frustrated in a series of local political projects, Garvey and his second wife, Amy Jacques Garvey, moved their family to London in 1935, where Garvey was overshadowed by a new generation of pan-­ African radicals who disdained his anachronistic and “petit bourgeois” sensibilities. Garvey died in relative obscurity on June 10, 1940, after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage earlier in the year. Garveyism is commonly recognized as one of the most important phenomena in the history of the African diaspora.“When you bear in mind the slenderness of his resources,the vast material forces and the pervading social conceptions which automatically sought to destroy him,[Garvey’s] achievement remains one of the propagandistic miracles of this century,” reflected C.L.R. James, no apologist of the movement, in the 1960s.3 Nevertheless, from the beginning observers of the Garvey phenomenon have struggled to explain its success. The venerable African American journalist (and future Garveyite), John Edward Bruce, when asked his opinion of Garvey in Figure 0.1. Marcus Garvey addresses the First International Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World, August 1920. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.) Introduction • 3 early 1918, doubted that the young Jamaican’s colorful and boorish tactics would have much traction. “We like to listen to the music of his mouth,” he conceded, “[b]ut Mr. Garvey will find that the Negro race is not so easily...


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