Jamaican-born Black Nationalist and Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey (pictured) and his fraternal organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League(UNIA-ACL), became a powerful force in the 1920s, after Garvey held the group’s first convention in Harlem’s Liberty Hall on this day in 1920. For the entire month of August, Garvey and the UNIA held the inaugural international convention at the famed Madison Square Garden venue. The UNIA’s reach was vast, with 1,900 affiliate divisions spread among 40 countries worldwide. Although the base for the organization was in America, African nations also joined with UNIA as well.
On August 13, the UNIA introduced the “Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World,” which elected the leaders of the UNIA. Garvey served as the chairman for the declaration’s proceedings and was named the “Provisional President of Africa.”
During the declaration, a statement formed the basis for the UNIA, or Pan-African, flag: “That the colors, Red, Black, and Green, be the colors of the African race,” read the statement and thus became the inspiration for the color scheme behind the flag.
The UNIA led a large parade from its headquarters on West 135th street and marched between 145th and 125th. Garvey and a Liberian elected official followed behind four mounted policemen and proudly went in to White neighborhoods in cars while the heads of Black Star Line and Negro Factories Corporation also followed.
This tradition would carry on yearly with Garvey retaining the services of a photographer to chronicle the event in 1924. The following year, Garvey would be convicted and imprisoned on mail fraud charges, eventually being deported back to his native Jamaica in 1927.
The UNIA-ACL still exists today, primarily between two divisions housed between New Jersey and Jamaica. Cleophus Miller, Jr. serves as President General of the group and the group motto “One God! One Aim! One Destiny!” still remains as a galvanizing battle cry.
To learn more about the UNIA-ACL, please follow this link.
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