The movement for a Republic of Africa–run for and by black people–grows strong on the streets of Harlem.
When a German society petitions a black man in America to use his influence against the use of black troops on the Rhine (as appears from an article in the International Relations Section this week), Americans cannot dismiss that man as a joke. Marcus Garvey and his movement have been criticized, probably justly, for unsound methods of finance. They have been denounced by colored critics for failing to assert social equality and by radical critics for lack of economic understanding. They have been ridiculed by white men who do not see that the foibles of their own racial consciousness are reflected in this Negro movement. But the movement goes on—a vigorous proof that the Negro no longer answers to Mr. Dooley’s -definition of a “docile people easily lynched.”
The visitor to the thriving Negro section of the Harlem. district in New York any time during the month of August would have been aware that something unusual was going on. At the corners newsboys hawked the Negro World—”all about Marcus Garvey and the great convention.” Cigar stores sold Marcus Garvey cigars. At certain hours parades drew thousands to the streets. A long one-story building, Liberty Hall, was filled all during the month with hundreds of delegates during business sessions and jammed to the doors every night. And this convention was an army with banners—red, black, and green—borne by delegates from three continents. Its leading functionaries on great occasions wore resplendent robes and at all times bore resounding titles: Potentate, Provisional President of Africa, Chaplain General, and the like. The man responsible for all this was Marcus Garvey, a West Indian Negro, not long in the United States, who asserts that in four years his Universal Negro Improvement Association has reached a membership of 4,500,000, about 45 per cent from the United States, the remainder from Africa, Central and South America, the West Indies, Canada, and Europe. Reduce this high estimate as much as you like, yet it still remains an unprecedented fact that representatives of all the principal Negro groups of the world have come together in an organization which raises the cry of “Africa for the Africans!” and proposes to found a great Negro government, an African Republic, which they vow to realize if it takes five hundred years.
This is a new thing for Negroes, but in strict harmony with many a slogan old or new which white men have used. “Self-determination of all peoples,” “a white Australia,” “100-per-cent Americanism”-how are they different in principle from Garvey’s cry “Africa, the selfgoverning home of the Negro race”? Any phenomenon among the colored population, like the U. N. I. A., white persons at first incline to regard as a huge joke, while the better-off colored people look upon it as something which they must shun in defense of their respectability. So there are educated and conscientious colored people who live within five minutes of Liberty Hail but have never been in it, and yet believe that the whole movement is disreputable, dishonest, and disgraceful to their race, and that Garvey, whom they have never heard, is a smart thief or a wild fanatic. But the stubborn fact remains that a man of a disadvantaged group, by his almost unsupported strength and personal magnetism, has founded so large a power in the English-speaking world as to add to the current vocabulary of that language a new word, “Garveyism.”