The song goes “Do you remember old Marcus Garvey?” and for far too many of us the response is “no.” And yet this man—as well as two remarkable sisters, Amy Ashwood and Amy Jacques—played a critical role in organizing what history has recorded as the largest international political movement of people of African descent. For twenty-two years, ‘Africans on the Move’ has struggled to continue this political movement right here in Milwaukee by spreading the Universal Negro Improvement Association’s unifying message that we are one people with one history and one destiny.
This year’s GarveyFest celebration will be held on Friday, Aug. 20 and Sat., Aug. 21 at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society, 2620 W. Center Street. All events are free and open to the public . The theme for this GarveyFest is “Rise Up You Mighty Race: Developing Positive African Female-Male Relationships”. The theme is in recognition of today’s crises-ridden relationships that plague our community. Whether single or married, many sisters are experiencing inequality, disrespect, unfaithfulness, and even abuse, too often at the hands of their own brothers! We can never progress like this. We once again call out to African people to throw off the yoke of capitalist exploitation and oppression by building strong, positive, and egalitarian partnerships and unions so that we can march forward and take our rightful place in history.
On Friday, Aug. 20 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., a video clip on sexual attitudes of African youths will be shown and organizations such as Running Rebels, Campaign Against Violence, Asha Family Services, Pan African Community Association, National Black United Front, the Nation of Islam, Sojourner Truth House, H.I.P. S.I.S.T.A.S., Sistaz with Voicez, and Hip Hop Scholars will be involved in developing solutions to heal ailing our African Female-Male Relationships. Refreshments will be served.
On Sat., Aug. 21, Garvey- Fest kicks off with a parade (from 12 noon to 1 p.m.), followed by cultural performances by Nefertari Dancers and Drummers, Voodooom, King Kamonzi, Taste Emcees, Steve Hunter (capoeria), Gat Turner, Linetta Davis, Alexia Austin, Keosha Dickerson, Shanice Cole, Nhandi & Flame Spitter, A Smoove Impact and others. Included also will be a children’s corner of activities, an African Marketplace, and a couple’s jeopardy. Why don’t we know about the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.)?
Let us answer this question first with a quote from Malcolm X: “By keeping us completely cut off from our past, it is easy for the man who has power over us to make us willing to stay at this level because we will feel that we were always at this level, a low level.” In other words, knowledge of the U.N.I.A. and the Garveys is food for liberation for the masses of people of African descent. For those in control, that is an undesirable reality.
Who was Marcus Garvey?
Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born on August 17, 1887 in St. Ann ’s Bay , Jamaica . His formal education stopped after elementary school, but his pursuit of knowledge was un-ending as he read continuously. He apprenticed as a printer, and in 1910 published his first newspaper, The Watchman. He traveled throughout the Caribbean, South America and England observing the wretched plight of African people. He stated, “Everywhere I go African people are oppressed.”
The times were extremely hostile for people of color in general and African people in particular. The era of colonialism— European domination over the labor and resources of people of color—was universal. In the U.S. , African people had recently come from under the shackles of slavery only to be suppressed by “Jim Crow” and massive lynching.
Who was Amy Ashwood Garvey?
Amy Ashwood Garvey was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica on January 10, 1897. She was a Pan-Africanist and the first wife of Marcus Garvey. Together in 1914 they founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.). She organized the Black Cross Nurses, a women’s section of the U.N.I.A. whose mission was to care for the health of the struggling African masses.
In 1946, Amy Ashwood moved to Liberia for three years before returning to London where she founded the Association for the Advancement of Colored People. During the last ten years of her life, she traveled throughout the Americas and Africa. On May 11, 1969, she died in Jamaica.
Who was Amy Jacques Garvey?
Amy Jacques Garvey was a pioneer Pan-African emancipator born in Kingston, Jamaica on December 31, 1885. After the collapse of his first marriage, Amy Jacques married Marcus Garvey in August 1920. She was referred to as the first lady of the Interim- Provisional Government of Africa—the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL). She gave birth to two sons: Marcus Garvey, Jr. and Julius Garvey.
In 1919 she became the Secretary General of the UNIA. Amy was dedicated to spreading the philosophy and principles held by the UNIA—race first, self-reliance and nationhood. In the cause for African Emancipation, her message was the same as her husband’s: “The hour of Black resurrection is at hand. Black man, Black woman, be up and doing for self and kind—for you can achieve what you will.” In 1923, she edited and published volume one of The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey (subtitled, Africa for the Africans), and in 1925 she compiled an published volume two of this historic work. During the same time, she was one of the editors of the UNIA newspaper, The Negro World.
Amy Jacques and Marcus Garvey would lead the UNIA in undertaking a major economic venture: The Black Star Steamship line. This was one of the organization’s major economic ventures. It was their intent that the ships would be a major tool of the African Repatriation and Resettlement Department of the UNIA. The task of that department was to resettle Africans in the Americas into Africa.
What was the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.)?
Enraged at the suffering of his people, on July 14, 1914, Garvey and a young Jamaican activist, Amy Ashwood, organized the Universal Negro Improvement Association—African Communities League (UNIA-ACL). The UNIA was designed to rebuild a positive social, cultural, psychological, and political life for African people around the world. The ACL was created to establish economic stability and independence in the African communities of the world. Amy Ashwood writes: “Our love for Africa and our concern for the welfare of our race urged us on to immediate action.”
The UNIA-ACL saw land as key to the liberation of an oppressed people and for the organization, the only rightful land base that belonged to African people was Africa . Garvey wrote, “We are determined to solve our own problems by redeeming our Motherland Africa from the hands of alien exploiters and found therein a government, nation of our own, strong enough to lend protection to the members of our race scattered all over the world and to compel the respect of the nations and races of the earth.”
And thus began the effort of the UNIA-ACL to organize for liberation under the leadership of Marcus Garvey. The organization established the Negro World newspaper which was read globally and even smuggled into the apartheid state of South Africa. There were the Black Legionnaires who were the UNIA’s army in training. There was also a medical corps called the Black Cross Nurses.
The UNIA had members throughout the world numbering in the millions. By the mid-1920s there were over 1100 UNIA branches in more than 40 countries throughout the Caribbean, Europe, South America, North America, and Africa. Included in the group were Elijah Muhammed, who would later become the leader of the Nation of Islam, and the parents of Malcolm X.
Clearly, the UNIA-ACL posed a major threat to the ruling class of the time. The UNIA was organizing and mobilizing a labor force that was being exploited by the capitalist ruling class worldwide. In addition, the organization sought to reclaim Africa as the land base for the liberation of African people. Africa, of course, was and still is the richest land mass and is still being exploited by global capitalist forces. It was because Firestone Rubber Corporation was raping Liberia of its rubber that it demanded that the U.S. government do something about Garvey. From the capitalists’ point of view, the Garvey movement had to be stopped.
The U.S. government assigned the destruction of the UNIA-ACL to a newly formed task force within the Justice Department. This unit was headed by the infamous J. Edgar Hoover. Collaborating with jealous “house Negroes” within the organization, Garvey was fraudulently convicted of mail fraud.
In 1925, Garvey was imprisoned by a U.S. federal court. He was released in 1927 and deported. Although the charges were shown to be phony charges, Garvey’s name has never been cleared in the U.S.
After his deportation, Marcus traveled throughout Europe and the Caribbean continuing to organize around his rallying cry, “ Africa for the Africans, at Home and Abroad.” On June 10, 1940 , Marcus Mosiah Garvey died in Europe from a stroke.
The Legacy of the Garveys and the U.N.I.A.
The final gift of the Garveys and the U.N.I.A. to their people is clear. They helped to educate their people about their noble identity as African people, challenging them “to rise up you mighty race.” Observing that “The powers opposed to African progress will not be influenced in the slightest by mere verbal protests,” they demonstrated the power and necessity of developing a revolutionary, not a reform, organization for the purpose of mobilizing for liberation. Marcus told his people “that you are a people most favorably suited for getting what you want through organization.” Most importantly, the Garveys and the U.N.I.A. inspired their people to work to reclaim and to unify their homeland Africa, no matter if they’d never see the day of its redemption: “All of us may not live to see the higher accomplishment of an African Empire—so strong and powerful, as to compel the respect of mankind, but we in our life-time can so work and act as to make the dream a possibility within another generation.”