As the most powerful and far-reaching organizer of Black people the world has known, the legacy of Marcus Mosiah Garvey offers lessons. With a focus on cultivating Black self-regard and self-sufficiency, he brought together millions of people throughout the African Diaspora under the auspices of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA/ACL). In Africa, Europe, the United States, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Australia—and beyond, UNIA/ACL membership swoll. Founded in 1914, Garvey’s movement is reported to have included more than 7 million people, operating out of 1,200 branches in 41 countries. Drawn to the UNIA/ACL aim to end racial subjugation, Black people united en masse to establish cultural, economic, and political sovereignty.
As current national and international protests against racial injustices persist, and communities organize to end terror against Black people, the value of studying the UNIA/ACL is glaring. Learning how such far-reaching organizing was achieved —as a study in how to accomplish similarly today—presents an opportunity to use historical knowledge to inform the present. One hundred years after the UNIA reached its height, informed organizers could stand on its organizational shoulders to reach higher.
In celebration of Garvey’s August 17th birthday and the centennial anniversary of the UNIA/ACL’s 1920 monumental New York convention, let’s remember, study, and apply lessons that produced massive successes. Click below to view a video lecture by renown historian Dr. Tony Martin, who chronicles the organizational genius of Marcus Garvey. Consider the first 19 minutes of the video an introduction to the organizing abilities Black folks have demonstrated over time.