Civil and Political Rights

What was the purpose of the Universal Negro Improvement Association?

Marcus (Mozian Manaseth) Garvey (1887–1940), black nationalist and orator, founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1914. It was the first black mass-movement organization. Garvey initially organized the UNIA in Kingston, Jamaica. However, when he came to the United States in 1916, the organization developed a more extensive following. The UNIA had members from around the world. There were 996 branches of the organization in 43 countries. During the early 1920s the association had grown larger than any other black organization in U.S. history. The UNIA served as the basis for Garvey’s Black Nationalist and consciousness-raising movement. The motto of the organization was “One God! One Aim! One Destiny!” Later its divisions and subsidiaries included the African Legion and the Black Cross Nurses. The organization’s agenda included racial pride, self-help, and racial segregation. The establishment of a black homeland in Africa and black economic independence were considered national extensions of that agenda.

Garvey was a controversial figure who was attacked by other black leaders because of his views on civil rights for African Americans in the United States. Garvey and his UNIA questioned whether black people could achieve equality in a white majority country. The UNIA, therefore, promoted migration of people of African descent back to Africa. As a part of the organization’s emphasis on self-help and black economic enterprise, the UNIA established the Negro Factories Corporation. Black-owned grocery stores, restaurants, and other service-oriented businesses were a part of the corporation. By mid-1919 Garvey established the Black Star Shipping Line to help create economic opportunities for blacks, who bought stock in the line. Garvey and his stockholders later expanded the business to form a cross-continent steamship trade.

Black nationalist and orator Marcus Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association.


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