Black Fact of the Week: Marcus Garvey Founds the Universal Negro Improvement Association in 1914

marcus garvey

Amid crippling racial inequalities in the 20th century, Marcus Mosiah Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1914 in his native Jamaica. Co-created alongside Amy Ashwood, who later became Garvey’s first wife, the organization was established on strong principles of Black unity, racial empowerment, and economic independence for people of African descent.

Upon relocating to Harlem in 1916, New York City became UNIA’s official headquarters, quickly sprouting hundreds of branches throughout the United States, Central and South America, Canada, Africa and the Caribbean. With a strong emphasis on Pan-Africanism and “back to Africa” ideologies, the UNIA especially flourished during the 1920’s; spreading their philosophies through the federation’s official newspaper, the Negro World.

pan african flag

During the entire month of August in 1920, the association held its first international convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It was there that the 20,000 members in attendance formulated the Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World, which solidified the movement’s motion toward Black Nationalism. The Declaration also proclaimed red, black and green as the official colors of the Black race, and adopted the colors in the UNIA/Pan-African flags.

Though the UNIA declined in power after Marcus Garvey was imprisoned for mail fraud in 1925 and deported back to Jamaica in 1927 (after years of being plotted on by the Bureau of Investigation, predecessor to the FBI, led by J. Edgar Hoover), the UNIA is recognized as the largest and most successful Black Nationalist movement in African America history.

Sources: Britannica; PBS; National Humanities Center

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