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Racial Struggles in the U.S.

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The voices of the leaders and members of the NAACP were not, of course, the only voices raised in challenge to racial policies in the United States in the first half of the century. Other important events are detailed in this section.

On the March

W. E. B. DuBois, like Marcus Garvey, sought to foster solidarity of blacks from many nations. In 1919, DuBois organized the second Pan-African Congress, which took place in Paris. In his later years (he died in Ghana, West Africa, in 1963), he embraced the global black liberation movement, among other causes.

Marcus Garvey's “Back to Africa” Movement

Marcus Garvey, a passionate and committed black nationalist, was born in Jamaica. He founded, in 1914, an organization he called the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA); its aim was to promote solidarity among blacks and celebrate without apology the significant achievements of African history and culture.

Garvey was impatient with any notion that racial integration could be successful in the United States, or indeed in any nation where blacks did not constitute a majority of the population. He promoted a “back to Africa” vision that drew both enthusiastic crowds and cynical opponents from within the African-American community, most notably from the DuBois-led NAACP.

Garvey's nationalist movement and exuberant rhetoric won him a major following, and he was probably the most prominent African-American leader in the country in the early 1920s. Many suspected (and Garvey insisted) that dark governmental forces were behind his later imprisonment for mail fraud; the conviction arose from accusations of participation in financial irregularities related to an all-black steamship firm, the Black Star Steamship Line, he had launched.

The company's three ships made travel and trade possible between their United States, Caribbean, Central American, and African stops. The economically independent Black Star Line was a symbol of pride for blacks and seemed to attract more members to the UNIA. Early in 1922 Garvey was convicted of mail fraud and given a maximum sentence of five years at the Atlanta federal penitentiary by Judge Julian Mack, also a NAACP member.

Whatever the truth behind the manipulations that led to his legal troubles, Garvey's movement faltered after he was deported to Jamaica in 1927 upon his release from prison. He never regained the public influence he had earlier enjoyed as a spellbinding public speaker and editor of the influential newspaper Negro World. However, in the United States Garveyism became central to the development of the African-American consciousness and freedom movements of 1960s.

Because of his courage, his pride, his tenacity, his gift for oratory, and his relentless insistence on the autonomy, dignity, and beauty of his people, Marcus Garvey has often been cited as a precursor to the 1960s African-American leader Malcolm X. Interestingly, Malcolm was born in the same year Garvey's movement began its nosedive, 1925.

Pickets During the Depression

Shortly after the stock market crash of 1929, an African-American protest movement against stores that refused to hire African-American staff arose in Chicago. Picket lines quickly spread to other major cities. The protesters' powerful slogan: “Don't Buy Where You Can't Work.”

The operation continued, doggedly, for the duration of the Great Depression. Economic issues were of keen importance to African-American communities in the troubled years following the crash; by 1937, it was estimated that over one quarter of all African-American males were unable to find work.

The pickets were a portent of public protests to come.



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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to African-American History © 2003 by Melba J. Duncan. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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