The Marcus Garvey and United Negro Improvement Association Papers, Volume XII: The Caribbean Diaspora, 1920-1921

The Marcus Garvey and United Negro Improvement Association Papers, Volume XII: The Caribbean Diaspora, 1920-1921

by Marcus Garvey

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Volume XII of the Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers covers a period of twelve months, from the opening of the UNIA's historic first international convention in New York, in August 1920, to Marcus Garvey's return to the United States in July 1921 after an extended tour of Cuba, Jamaica, Panama, Costa Rica, and


Volume XII of the Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers covers a period of twelve months, from the opening of the UNIA's historic first international convention in New York, in August 1920, to Marcus Garvey's return to the United States in July 1921 after an extended tour of Cuba, Jamaica, Panama, Costa Rica, and Belize. In many ways the 1920 convention marked the high-point of the Garvey movement in the United States, while Garvey's tour of the Caribbean, in the winter and spring of 1921, registered the greatest outpouring of popular support for the UNIA in its history. The period covered in the present volume was the moment of the movement's political apotheosis, as well as the moment when the finances of Garvey's Black Star Line went into free ­fall.

Volume XII highlights the centrality of the Caribbean people not only to the convention, but also to the movement. The reports to the convention discussed the range of social and economic conditions obtaining in the Caribbean, particularly their impact on racial conditions. The quality of the discussions and debates were impressive. Contained in these reports are some of the earliest and most clearly enunciated statements in defense of social and political freedom in the Caribbean. These documents form an underappreciated and still underutilized record of the political awakening of Caribbean people of African descent.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Eric Foner
The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers will take its place among the most important records of the Afro-American experience. . . . ‘The Marcus Garvey Papers’ lays the groundwork for a long overdue reassessment of Marcus Garvey and the legacy of racial pride, nationalism, and concern with Africa he bequeathed to today’s black community."
The Nation - Clayborne Carson
“Until the publication of The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, many of the documents necessary for a full assessment of Garvey’s thought or of his movement’s significance have not been easily accessible. Robert A. Hill and his staff . . . have gathered over 30,000 documents from libraries and other sources in many countries. . . . The Garvey papers will reshape our understanding of the history of black nationalism and perhaps increase our understanding of contemporary black politics.” 
The New Republic - Lawrence W. Levine
“Now is our chance, through these important volumes, to finally begin to come to terms with the significance of Garvey’s complex, fascinating career and the meaning of the movement he built.”
Reviews in American History - Thom W. Shick
The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Papers are much more than just the records of an exceptional individual and his organization. . . . The annotated footnotes can be read for profit independent of the documents. The identification of persons frequently goes well beyond brief sketches to become rich biographical entries. . . . [Historians] must rethink not only the place of Garveyism in the context of twentieth-century Afro-American history but, and in some ways more importantly, the place of the Afro-American experience in U.S. and world history during the period.”

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The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers

By Robert A. Hill

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2014 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-5737-7



VOLUME XII August 1920–July 1921

UNIA Convention Report

[[New York, August 3, 1920]]

Following the monster public meeting at Madison Square Garden, at which nearly 25,000 persons were present, the Internation[al] Convention of Negroes entered its third day's session in Liberty Hall, on Tuesday, August 3. The session opened with a full attendance of delegates. President-General Marcus Garvey occupying the chair.


The first part of the convention was given over to the hearing of complaints from delegates. The complaints they brought from their respective countries and States. "We want this convention to clearly understand the universal Negro situation," said Mr. Garvey. "We can only understand it when the representatives from Georgia tells of the real conditions in Georgia; when the representative from Mississippi tells of the real conditions in Mississippi; when the representative from Basutoland or any other part of Africa tells of the real conditions in Africa. And so with the various islands of the West Indies, and South and Central America. We want to understand the universal situation of the Negro so that we can have conditions so arranged as to meet the demands of 400,000,000 people who are being represented at this convention.["]

"So the first five or six days of the convention will be devoted to reports of every delegate. Every delegate will be given a chance to lay the grievances of the community he or she represents before this Conference of Negroes. We do not want it said after this convention is over that Georgia did not get a hearing to explain the conditions in Georgia; Canada did not get a hearing to explain the conditions in Canada; Africa did not get a hearing to explain the conditions in Africa, or the British West Indies did not get a hearing to explain the conditions in those islands." Continuing, he said[,] "When the convention adjourns on the 31st of August, we want to feel that every Negro understands the universal situation of the Race; so that when anything is to be done, whether in the British West Indies or Canada, Africa, South and Central America, or in any of the forty-eight States of America. You as delegates elected by your respective peoples will be able to enlighten the convention as to the exact situation in that State, or island or country."


Five or six days will be devoted to a discussion of the conditions obtaining in the communities represented by the delegates.

"I offer the suggestion," said the chairman, "that fifteen minutes should be the maximum time allowed any delegate to lay the conditions of his State or country before the convention and that the time should range from five to fifteen minutes. This suggestion is now the property of the house."

Mr. James Williams, of Montclair, N.J., put the suggestion in the form of a motion.


Mr. Phillip Van Putten, of Haiti, made an amendment to the motion to the effect that if in the discretion of the chairman a delegate's cause is of such great importance to the convention, as to consume more time than fifteen minutes, additional time be extended to the delegate. The motion, with the amendment, was carried.

"We are assembled here for a serious purpose," declared the President-General. "Some of the delegates have come from thousands of miles away. They have left their homes and families to attend this convention. I hope you will bear these facts [in] mind and try to expedite matters as much as possible." [...]


Mr. Lee Bennett, delegate from British Honduras, speaking on conditions obtaining in that country stated that the conditions affecting Negroes in British Honduras are not what they ought to be. "We who have started this organization down there are looked upon with suspicion by the government. We are treated as people trying to stir up sedition, so that we have had to go very carefully.["]

"There are any number of things that we might complain about," he said, "but principally, we would like to complain about educational conditions that are keeping us down. Our children are not being educated as they ought to be; and while we cannot say that there is color discrimination as existing in other places, yet there is educational discrimination. That, in brief, is the condition of affairs in British Honduras. That is what we desire to lay stress on—our need and desire for educational improvement.["] [...]


Mr. F. S. Ric[kett]s (Colon, Panama), speaking on conditions in Colon, Republic of Panama, said:

"When the U.N.I.A. was started in 1918 we were scoffed and jeered at by the white man. We got together and we did our best. There are a number of little grievances which I hope will be taken up here later on but I will not venture now to speak of them, because the time is not opportune. I want to tell you that the people in Panama, especially in Colon—10,000 Negroes there and between 7,000 and 8,000 in Panama—a body of fully 22,000 there, for the most part coming from the various islands in the West Indies—have been accorded the worst treatment at the hands of the white man.["] [He] went on to show the United [Brot]herhood called a strike to get more pay for the work they performed. When the strike was called, 17,000 Negroes stepped out. Describing conditions during the strike he said: "Drawn bayonets were fixed and the workers were practically ousted from the Panama Canal by military forces. They took possession of the houses and the workers had to rent houses from the Panama Canal authorities so that they were compelled to work for them. Women and children were ejected from their homes at the point of the bayonet, and many a man has been forced to commit suicide from the time that work ceased on the Panama Canal for them.


"You cannot get a boat to leave there. If you go to the United Fruit Co. and ask for passage on one of [their] boats in order to leave Colon, they say, 'No, we have no passage for you; wait for the Black Star Line.'

["]That strike is the first strike in history where men have had to go back to work for less than they were getting. Men who had gotten $75 a month had to return for $50, and had to accept it because their wives and children were there. All our belongings were dashed to pieces. In Panama and Colon men are out of positions they formerly held, and the offices that were formerly held by colored men for years—fourteen and fifteen years—are now being held by white men and women. The man who formerly had an avocation now has to push a truck. But the U.N.I.A. is still doing its utmost to relieve the situation, and when the time comes I shall present the resolution that my society has forwarded by me." [...]


Mr. Clifford Bourne, (Guatemala, Central America)—"I have brought a special message from the members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. On the 17th of February, last, we established there a branch of your Association with just about eleven members. I am glad to tell you that through proper organization and systematic handling, we stand today at 250. That community there is especially a Spanish community, and among us there are about 2,000 colored men. When we started our association, the United Fruit Company, a company that has tried to down everything done by the Negro, and especially, the Black Star Line, tried to get the President of the Republic, Manuel Estraba Cabrera, to forbid us from having our meetings. But your humble servant came out and told him he could not stop us. I told him: "You may stop us temporarily, but we are going to be conquerors in the end."

["]The United Fruit Company only paid the laborers $1.50 per day. After we established our Association we got together and succeeded in establishing a union; we then demanded of the United Fruit Company that it raise the laborers['] salary 100 per cent. (Cheers). Our Association said: "If you do not raise them, we will support them." We established a charitable fund and everybody held up work for about fifteen days and they came to us and we supported them. When the white m[a]n saw that we were determined not to be led by him, the manager of the company gave the men 100 per cent raise. All of that was accomplished through the Universal Negro Improvement Association. (Cheers).


["]There is a noted colored merchant by the name of Mr. George C. Reneau in the city of Puerto Barrio[s] who came to me and told me that nothing at all that has been tried by Negroes has been a success. I told him this movement is to be a success. So I lectured to this gentleman. A few days after he came to my office and said to me: "Mr. Bourne, here is my check for $1,000, send it to the President-General, for 200 shares in the Black Star Line." I had converted him, and that is the kind of work we are doing over there. "If we are going into anything, we must exercise system; and system can only be exercised through cooperation. Let us turn our minds toward the same object, and whatever we do, let us do it systematically, and when the day shall come and the automatic button shall ring, we shall be one for Africa.["] (Cheers). [...]


Mr. A. N. Willis, (Bocas del Toro, Republic of Panama)—"Our town is situated on the borders of the Division—that is, on the province of Bocas del Toro and on the Costa Rica Division—just the Sixola Bridge divides us. The Division I represent takes in thirty-six miles on the Costa Rica side and about thirty-seven miles on the Panama[n]ian territory," said Mr. Willis. "When Mr. Samuda, the former President, and Mme. Duchatillier, the lady president, came to us about ten months ago, we were organized. Since then we have been to the best of our ability, working in the interests of this Association. There have been many difficulties in the way, brought about by the influence of the United Fruit Company. They have done everything in this world to prevent our organizing along the various sections of the line. The place is so situated that they own entire territories of land and houses. The people living in this section are foreigners, and in very few instances do you see natives there. The United Fruit Company has sent their diplomatic agents all along the lines to prevent us from organizing. I do not like to say anything uncomplimentary about the ministers, but I cannot help telling you, my friends, that they have been the greatest enemies to this movement. The ministers along the lines, controlling the various churches, get in contact with the people and tell them they must not allow any meetings to be held in the churches owned by the United Fruit Company. They get a small salary of $75 per month from the United Fruit Company and they are allowed to ride on the train on a pass. Knowing the United Fruit Company is opposed to the movement and have done everything in the world to prevent us from organizing along the lines, and knowing that the United Fruit Company can take away their passes and cut off their $75 a month, which forms a great part of their support, they have not stood by the people; and hence we had to take it upon ourselves and we went into this section and forced a way to success.


["]Conditions have changed since we have organized the association in the Republic of Panama. Two years ago we had a strike in Bocas del Toro and the white men drew swords and killed two or three of the strikers; when we appealed to Jamaica for some representation they gave us none.["]

["]The Division I represent is in good standing with the government and you will be privileged to see one of the biggest officials. He is here with us—Mr. Ogilvie. He is treasurer of Bocas del Toro. Conditions to-day are very satisfactory for the association. We are all organized with but little exception and those not yet in are waiting to see what can be done.["] [...]


The Black Star Line Band was in attendance, and played lively music at intervals.


The first speaker at the afternoon session was Mr. James Benjamin, a delegate from Porto Rico. He said: "I believe I am one of the few Spanish speaking delegates in this hall. I am not speaking my native language, my native language is Spanish. With my knowledge of English, however, I shall try my best to inform you of conditions in my home. I would like to he[re] say that the fact of Spanish speaking Negroes joining hands with English speaking Negroes means that language makes no difference with us as long as we are Negroes. My country is a small island 36 by 130 miles, with a population of 1,500,000 inhabitants. It is one of the most thickly populated islands in the West Indies. Ninety per cent of the inhabitants of this island are Negroes. Conditions confronting Negroes in Porto Rico are the same conditions that confront Negroes all over the world. I can see no difference in the conditions of Negroes no matter where they reside. We Negroes are the same all over the world. We are beasts of burden and servants of the white man.["]

"A few months ago representatives of the Universal Negro Improvement Association came to my home and I lost no time in joining the association. I saw right away that this association would eventually be productive of much good.["]

"Many other persons would have joined also, but the Universal Negro Improvement Association labored under a great disadvantage in that their propaganda was disseminated throughout the country in English, whereas the majority of my countrymen cannot understand English. I would advise them the next time they send a delegation to my home to send persons who can both read and write Spanish, and who can deliver addresses in the Spanish language. I tried to help the association out, however, by condensing their speeches, translating them into Spanish and publishing them in some of the local newspapers. By so doing I was instrumental in getting several persons to join the association.["]


["]The San Juan people are greatly enthusiastic over this idea, and I hope Ponce will be the city of Porto Rico that will hold the banner for the U.N.I.A. I do not want to take your time talking about conditions among the Negroes of Porto Rico, for they are the same everywhere the Negro lives. Negroes are educated in Porto Rico. That is all right. But what happens after that? A father works twelve or fifteen years to educate his son; he finds when his son leaves college that he cannot find suitable work in keeping with his attainments because he is a Negro. He is intelligent, but the white man will not permit him to get into an office. That happens in Porto Rico, and it is the same thing that is happening all around the world. So the only thing I have to say is that Porto Rico is getting the feelings and the sentiment that the Hon. Marcus Garvey is spreading all around the world. I see in this convention any number of English-speaking Negroes represented; and we want all Negroes to be represented; we want all Negroes organized under this flag of ours. (Applause.) I believe that we have a great work to do in those islands where English is not spoken. I want our leader to send some representative to our island who knows the language of the island to explain what this association means. We don't want any Negro to be neglected; we want every Negro in every land to be informed of the U.N.I.A. and its principles. I am sure that our banner—the red, green and black—will wave in triumph all around the world and at last claim the independence of Africa.["] (Applause.) [...]


Excerpted from The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers by Robert A. Hill. Copyright © 2014 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Meet the Author

Robert A. Hill is Research Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he is Editor in Chief and Project Director of The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers Project at the James S. Coleman African Studies Center.

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