Universal Negro Improvement Association Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Founded by Marcus Garvey, the UNIA was created to promote racial unity and uplift among peoples of the African diaspora and to foster a back-to-Africa movement for African Americans.

Marcus Garvey established the Universal Negro Improvement Association in Jamaica in August of 1914 to encourage self-pride, unity, and the advancement of black people around the world. Using the motto, “One God! One Aim! One Destiny,” the movement had as one of its objectives the return of Americans of African descent to Africa.Universal Negro Improvement AssociationGarvey, MarcusAfrican Americans;and Marcus Garvey[Garvey]Jamaican immigrants;Universal Negro Improvement AssociationUniversal Negro Improvement AssociationGarvey, MarcusAfrican Americans;and Marcus Garvey[Garvey]Jamaican immigrants;Universal Negro Improvement Association[cat]WEST INDIAN IMMIGRANTS;Universal Negro Improvement Association[cat]ADVOCACY ORGANIZATIONS AND MOVEMENTS;Universal NegroImprovement Association

After traveling to various Central and South American countries, England, and parts of Africa, Garvey was displeased with the living conditions and hardships of the black people whom he encountered and decided to work to improve their lot. After returning to Jamaica, he organized the UNIA with the intention of building an international movement. In 1916, he relocated to the United States. After traveling throughout the southern states and witnessing the injustices that black Americans faced, he became convinced that achieving economic independence was the key to improving the political and social condition of black people. The following year, he formed a chapter of the UNIA in New York City, which became his movement’s headquarters.

From the UNIA’s Liberty Hall in New York City’s Harlem district, Garvey delivered his message to audiences of thousands. His movement’s goals included promoting racial pride, assisting the deprived, establishing schools and universities, promoting economic independence through black-owned commercial endeavors, and assisting people of African descent to return to Africa. Millions of African Americans were stirred by Garvey’s message, but the actual number of dues-paying UNIA members was never more than a few tens of thousands.

The UNIA reached many of Garvey’s followers through its weekly newspaper, the Negro World (newspaper)Negro World, which had a worldwide circulation. The UNIA also formed such uniformed auxiliary groups as the African Legion, the Black Cross Nurses, and the Universal Motor Corps. These groups served to organize and unite the people to help build self-esteem and promote self-reliance among adults as well as the youth. For Garvey, the swiftest and efficient way to economic liberation was through black-controlled trade and industrial success. The UNIA launched a shipping line called the Black Star LineBlack Star Line to carry cargo and transport passengers to Africa; however, faulty management and unwise purchases of ships led to its collapse. The UNIA itself ceased to be an international organization after Garvey was imprisoned in 1925 on mail-fraud charges relating to the mismanagement of the shipping line.

The UNIA continued to operate for several years but lost its impetus and gradually splintered into a few vestigial bodies. The UNIA operated as a mass movement for only a brief period, but it was the first organization in the United States to gather an enormous membership of people of African descent. The association was determined to offer people of African descent a sense of racial pride, Garvey was the first to publicly announce “black is beautiful,” for the sake of instilling a sense of pride among black people.Universal Negro Improvement AssociationGarvey, MarcusAfrican Americans;and Marcus Garvey[Garvey]Jamaican immigrants;Universal Negro Improvement Association

Further Reading
  • Cronon, Edmund David. The Black Moses: The Story of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969.
  • Garvey, Marcus. Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey. Edited by Bob Blaisdell. New York: Dover, 2004.
  • Grant, Colin. Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Hill, Robert A., ed. The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers. 9 vols. Berkeley: University of Californa Press, 1983-1996.

African Americans and immigrants

American Colonization Society

Garvey, Marcus

Latin American immigrants

Mexican immigrants

Categories: History Content