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>> 21 1 From Race to Nation “Ethiopia” and Pan-African Pageantry in the UNIA [T]o organize Negroes we have got to demonstrate; you cannot tell them anything; you have got to show them; and that is why we have got to spend seven years making noise. —Marcus Garvey It was the thirteenth of August 1920, nearly two weeks into the monthlong International Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World held in Harlem, New York. The stage was emblazoned with the colors of red, black, and green, and the two-thousand-member audience sat in eager anticipation of their entrance. On that day the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) announced its human rights platform for the protections of the Black race. Titled the Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World, the manifesto was designed to broadcast the formation of and agenda for 400 million Negroes worldwide and was, on this day, given a rigorous and vibrant rendering by the newly appointed provisional president of Africa, Marcus Garvey. As the oratory closed, his breath hanging from the final line of the Declaration of Rights (“These rights we believe to be justly ours . . . ”), the audience took its cue and boldly affirmed its solidarity when it “sprang to its feet and sang most fervently the new anthem of the association, ‘Ethiopia, Thou Land of Our Fathers.’”1 This recital was their moment of exultation and collective advance, signaling the introductory chapter of their ascent into the world corps of nations. The anthem, “Ethiopia (Thou Land of Our Fathers),” in performance was the evidence of citizenship on the lips of UNIA members. Like the 22 > 23 relationship to the teachings of Black American leader Booker T. Washington .4 A 1916 trip to the United States, in which he witnessed the nation’s unique brand of Jim Crow, changed Garvey’s perspective on politics and impressed upon him the necessity of a strong race program based in the political desires of Afro-diasporic communities. As the message and spectacle of the 1920 convention demonstrates, both Garvey and the organization quickly adjusted their political philosophies in order to respond to the growing racial antagonisms within the United States. The UNIA’s new Black world was launched from Liberty Hall. Dedicated on July 27, 1919, Liberty Hall was a nod to the building of the same name in Dublin, Ireland, which was a recognized site of rebellion during the Irish War of Independence.5 The shared name of the two locations highlighted the organization’s global perspective and encouraged visitors and members alike to imagine the UNIA struggle as an extension of existent nationalist movements. Liberty Hall therefore beckoned individuals invested, or at least interested, in a mobilizationcentered approach to Black activism and served as a welcome site for visitors and UNIA members from around the world. The hall’s location in Harlem, the “Black Mecca,” offered additional incentives to the African descended. It was not only a densely populated Black section of the city, where Black men and women developed and enjoyed relatively safe public spaces, but also the hub of Black culture and protest, housing the offices of the UNIA and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and forming the landscape for the labor militancy of A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen’s socialist Messenger magazine. The Harlem Renaissance writers, musicians, and performers of the 1920s set a brilliant stage for the upcoming events of the blooming UNIA. While Garvey harbored a “long-held belief in the unification of art and propaganda as the keenest instrument of progress,” his vision was not universally held.6 Debates within the infant UNIA hinged on questions of the relationship between performance and politics. As historian Colin Grant notes, “[E]ven before the fundamental building blocks were put in place, the ideological stress lines were beginning to show” between Garvey and his colleagues and culture was a sticking point that reflected the tensions of both performance and nation within the 24 > 25 dismal political reality and extended battle ahead. The early decades of the twentieth century continued the radical post-Reconstruction exclusion of Black political participation in the United States; from 1901 to 1929, there were no Black elected officials in the Senate or House of Representatives and local Black officials were scarce in communities north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Beyond the United States, the Black world lived and struggled under distinct and dispersed regimes of colonial domination. In...


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