universal negro improvement association (unia)

It’s Flag Day! On this week’s podcast, we explore the ways that communities of color in the United States relate to the Stars and Stripes.

And we thought it worth a few moments to celebrate a flag created nearly a century ago for black Americans.

The Pan-African flag, (also called the Marcus Garvey, UNIA, Afro-American or Black Liberation flag,) was designed to represent people of the African Diaspora, and, as one scholar put it, to symbolize “black freedom, simple.”

The banner, with its horizontal red, black and green stripes, was adopted by the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) at a conference in New York City in 1920. For several years leading up to that point, Marcus Garvey, the UNIA’s leader, talked about the need for a black liberation flag. Robert Hill, a historian and Marcus Garvey scholar, says that Garvey thought of a flag as necessary symbol of political maturity.

“The fact that the black race did not have a flag was considered by Garvey, and he said this, it was a mark of the political impotence of the black race,” Hill explains. “And so acquiring a flag would be proof that the black race had politically come of age.”

On Flag Day, Remembering The Red, Black And Green

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Caption: Demonstrators hold up a Pan-African flag to protest the killing of teenager Michael Brown on Aug. 12, 2014 in Ferguson, Mo.

The Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) was founded on July 20, 1914 when The Right Excellent Marcus Garvey recruited its first member, Miss Amy Ashwood, and held the organization’s first meeting at 121 Orange Street in Kingston. The UNIA was dedicated to promoting racial pride, econo-mic self-sufficiency, and the establishment of a united and independent Africa. The organisation adopted a motto, ‘One God! One Aim! One Destiny’. This year marks 100 years since he conceptualized and launched this historic and global confraternity of the race.

We Salute Marcus Mosiah Garvey on this the 100th Anniversary of the UNIA!!

“Up you mighty race! You can accomplish what you will.”

Henrietta Vinton Davis (1860-1941) was an African-American actress, named as ‘the premier actor of all nineteenth-century black performers on the dramatic stage’. She was also an important figure in the abolitionist movement.

She was involved in the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association), and eventually became its assistant President-General. She also established several branches of the association throughout the Caribbean.

2

August 17th 1887: Marcus Garvey born

On this day in 1887, black activist Marcus Garvey was born in Jamaica. The youngest of eleven children, the young Garvey was a keen reader, but left school aged fourteen to begin working as an apprentice. In his early twenties, Garvey traveled extensively around Central and Southern America, writing about the exploitation of migrant labour, and attended university in the United Kingdom. In 1914, once back in Jamaica, Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), and, after corresponding with Booker T. Washington, moved to New York City to promote the movement. Marcus Garvey was a passionate and electrifying speaker, touring the United States eloquently arguing for pride in African-American heritage and promoting black nationalism. He is best known as an advocate of the ‘Back to Africa’ movement, which urged African-Americans to return to their ancestral homeland to strive for economic and social freedom, facilitated by Garvey’s Black Star Line company. He was also a proponent of pan-Africanism, a movement which calls for the unity of the African diaspora to empower and uplift people of African descent. By 1920, the UNIA claimed four million members from around the world. Garvey’s actions provoked the ire of white Americans and the United States government, and in 1922 he was arrested for alleged mail fraud. In what was likely a politically-motivated case, Garvey was imprisoned and later deported to Jamaica. Marcus Garvey died in London in 1940, aged fifty-two, but is remembered today as the inspiration for the Nation of Islam and Rastafari movements, and as a major black civil rights leader.

“We have a beautiful history, and we shall create another in the future that will astonish the world”

Five You Should Know: Organizing for Change

As we begin Women’s History Month, we are excited to highlight the efforts and the abilities of African American women. African American women have made tremendous contributions toward the freedom, equality and thriving culture of African American communities. However, these stories are often historically lost to us or overlooked within the American story.

The women here represent a continual pursuit of equality through organizing, led by African American women. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and join us in sharing #HiddenHerstory during the month of March. 

1. Hallie Quinn Brown

Photo: Photo from Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction, edited by Hallie Quinn Brown, 1926. 

Hallie Quinn Brown (1849-1949) helped organize the Colored Women’s League in Washington, D.C., one of the organizations that merged in 1896 to become the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). She served as president of the NACW, from 1920 to 1924. Brown is among many other notable founders of the NACW, to include Harriet Tubman, Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells.

Brown also served as President of the Ohio State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs between 1905 and 1912. During her last year as president of the NACW, she spoke at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Brown had a reputation as a powerful orator. In 1899, while serving as a U.S. representative, she spoke before the International Congress of Women meeting in London, UK on women’s suffrage and civil rights.

2. Madam C.J. Walker

Photo: From Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction, edited by Hallie Quinn Brown, 1926. 

Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919) is widely known for her successful beauty and haircare business, produced by her Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company. However, Walker’s life also includes a long history of activism and philanthropy toward racial equality and civil rights. During World War I, Walker was a leader in the Circle For Negro War Relief, in the effort to establish a training camp for black army officers. In 1917, she joined the executive committee of the New York chapter of the NAACP, which organized the Silent Protest Parade on New York City’s Fifth Avenue. More than 8,000 African Americans participated in protest of a riot in East Saint Louis that killed thirty-nine African Americans.

Walker was also a supporter of Marcus Garvey, donating to the mission of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). She was joined by Garvey and others when she founded The International League for Darker People in 1919 in the U.S. The organization aimed to bring together African Americans with other non-European people to pursue shared goals at the Paris Peace Conference following World War I. In particular, the organization made connections between Asian and black communities and for solidarity within their liberation movements. Walker’s life of activism is a reflection of her desire for global equality.

3. Barbara Smith

Photo: Portrait of Barbara Smith.

In 1973, author and lesbian feminist Barbara Smith, with other delegates, attended the first regional meeting of the National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO) in 1973 in New York City. This meeting resulted in the founding of the Combahee River Collective. The Collective’s name was suggested by Smith, who owned the book, Harriet Tubman, Conductor on the Underground Railroad by Earl Conrad. The name commemorated an action at the Combahee River planned and led by Harriet Tubman on June 2, 1863, in the Port Royal region of South Carolina. The action freed more than 750 slaves and is the only military campaign in American history planned and led by a woman. The Combahee River Collective emphasized the intersections of race, gender, sexuality and class oppression in the lives of African American women and other non-white women.

Smith also established the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press in 1980, an activist feminist press that published several pamphlets and books. Many of these works became widely influential and adopted into many courses of study. Smith continued her work as a community organizer, when she was elected to the Albany, New York city council in 2005. She was an advocate for violence prevention, and educational opportunities for poor, minority and underserved people. Smith continues to be activist for economic, racial and social inequality.

4. Marsha P. Johnson

PhotoMarsha P. Johnson Black & white version of Andy Warhol Polaroid.

Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992), a drag queen and gay liberation activist, is known as one of the first to fight back in the  Stonewall riots, a series of violent demonstrations among the LGBT against police raids. In the 1970s, Johnson and a friend, Sylvia Rivera, cofounded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), an organization that promoted the visibility of the gay community, particularly through gay liberation marches and other political actions. The organization also worked to provide food and clothing for young drag queens, trans women and other kids living in the streets in the Lower East Side of New York. In the 1980s, she continued her street activism as a, organizer and with the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). 

5. Charlene Carruthers

Photo: Charlene Carruthers, Photo Courtesy of BYP100 Project.

Charlene Carruthers is a black queer feminist activist and organizer. In July 2013, Carruthers with 100 other black activist leaders from across the U.S. were assembled by the Black Youth Project in Chicago for a meeting. The meeting convened with the goal of building networks of organization for black youth activism across the country. However, it was the verdict of George Zimmerman regarding the death of Trayvon Martin, that inspired Carruthers and the other activists to form Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100). The group was created to organize and promote young black activism in resistance to structural forms of  oppression. BYP100 trains youth to be leaders, to empower a younger generation of black activist. 

Carlos A. Cooks was born in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic on June 23, 1913 to parents from St. Martin. He died in Harlem, New York, on May 5, 1966. He was a key link in the history of Black American nationalism between Marcus Garvey before him and Malcolm X, whom he influenced. He was also a member and leading figure of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA) branches in Harlem and San Pedro de Macoris.

Happy Birthday The Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr.!!! Jamaican born proponent of the Pan-Africanism movement, he also founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL). Today we celebrate you!!! #MarcusGarvey ##islandpeeps #islandpeepsbirthdays #panafricanist #unia #blackstarliner #Garveyism #rastafari #blacknationalism

Jamaica's National Heroes Day

The Order of National Hero is the most senior order. The honour of the Order of National Hero may be conferred upon any person who was born in Jamaica or is, or at the time of his or her death was, a citizen of Jamaica and rendered to Jamaica service of a most distinguished nature. National Heroes are entitled to be styled “The Rt Excellent” and the motto of the Order is “He built a city which hath foundations”.

The Insignia
The insignia of the Order of National Hero consists of a gold and white enamelled star of fourteen points, the centre of which shows the heraldic Arms of Jamaica in gold on a black enamelled medallion. This is surrounded by the motto of the Order in gold lettering on green enamel. The collar badge is suspended from a black, gold and green neck riband by a gold and green enameled laurel wreath.

Members of the Order of National Hero - Deceased
Nanny of the Maroons (circa 1600s – circa 1740s)
Leader of the Windward Maroons at the beginning of the 18th Century

Samuel Sharpe (1700s – May 23, 1832)
“Leader”, Burchell Baptist Church
Montego Bay

George William Gordon (circa 1820s -October 23, 1865)
Member of the House of Assembly

Paul Bogle, Deacon (circa 1822- October 24, 1865)
The Native Baptist Church, Stony Gut, St. Thomas

Marcus Mosiah Garvey, (August 17, 1887 – June 10, 1940)
Founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA)

Sir Alexander Bustamante, GBE (February 24, 1884 – August 6, 1977)
Chief Minister of Jamaica (December 1944 – January 1955)
Premier of Jamaica (April 1962 – August 1962)
Prime Minister of Jamaica (April 1962 – February 1967)
Founder – President of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP)

Norman Washington Manley, MM, QC (July 4, 1893- September 2, 1969)
Chief Minister (January 1955 – July 1959)
Premier (July 1959 – April 1962)
Founder – President of the Peoples National Party (PNP)

10

Today in Black History- February 8th, 2014

  • On this day in 1990, Andy Rooney suspended for racist comments. Andy Rooney, a CBS “60 Minutes” commentator, received a 90-day suspension from work because of racist remarks about African Americans attributed to him by Chris Bull, a New York-based reporter for “The Advocate,” a bi-weekly national gay & lesbian newsmagazine published in Los Angeles. Bull quoted Rooney as having said during an interview: “I’ve believed all along that most people are born with equal intelligence, but Blacks have watered down their genes because the less intelligent ones are the ones that have the children. They drop out of school early, do drugs, and get pregnant.”

  • On this day in 1996, Figure skater Debi Thomas wins the Women’s Singles. Debra Janine “Debi” Thomas ( is an American figure skater and physician. She is the 1986 World champion, two-time U.S. national champion and 1988 Olympic bronze medalist, having taken part in the Battle of the Carmens at those games.Thomas became the first African American to win the Women’s Singles of the U.S. National Figure Skating Championship competition, was a pre-med student at Stanford University.

  • On this day in 1986, Oprah Winfrey becomes the first African American woman to host a nationally syndicated talk show.Oprah Gail Winfrey  is an American media proprietor, talk show host, actress, producer, and philanthropist. Winfrey is best known for her multi-award-winning talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show which was the highest-rated program of its kind in history and was nationally syndicated from 1986 to 2011. She has been ranked the richest African-American of the 20th century, the greatest black philanthropist in American history,and is currently North America’s only black billionaire. She is also, according to some assessments, the most influential woman in the world. In 2013, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama and an honorary doctorate degree from Harvard.

  • On this day in 1985, Brenda Renee Pearson an official court reporter for the House of Representatives was the first black female to record the State of the Union message delivered by the president in the House chambers.

  • On this day in 1978, Leon Spinks defeated Muhammad Ali for heavyweight boxing championship. Ali regained the title on September 15 and became the person to win the title three times. Spinks is an American former boxer, who had an overall record of 26 wins, 17 losses and three draws as a professional, with 14 of those wins by knockout. In only his eighth professional bout, Spinks won the undisputed world heavyweight championship when he beat Muhammad Ali on February 15, 1978, in what was considered one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. However, he was stripped of the WBC title for fighting Ali in an unapproved rematch seven months later, which he lost by a 15-round unanimous decision. Besides being heavyweight champion and his characteristic gap-toothed grin (due to losing two and later all four of his front teeth), Spinks gained notoriety for the disaster which befell his career following the loss to Ali.

  • On this day in 1974, Lieutenant-Colonel Aboubakar Sangoulé Lamizana, president of Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), ousted the prime minister, dissolved the parliament and suspended the 1970 constitution. Major General Aboubakar Sangoulé Lamizana was the second president of Upper Volta (since 1984 renamed Burkina Faso), in power from January 3, 1966 to November 25, 1980. He held the additional position of Prime Minister from February 8, 1974 to July 7, 1978.
  • On this day in 1968, Gary Coleman was born in Zion, Illinois. Gary Wayne Coleman was an American actor, known for his childhood role as Arnold Jackson in the American sitcom Diff’rent Strokes (1978–1986) and for his small stature as an adult. He was described in the 1980s as “one of television’s most promising stars”. After a successful childhood acting career, Coleman struggled financially later in life. In 1989, he successfully sued his parents and business advisor over misappropriation of his assets, only to declare bankruptcy a decade later. in 2003, he was a candidate for the California recall election and later on placed 8th out of 135 candidates, receiving 14,242 votes. 

  • On this day in 1968, Officers killed three students during demonstration on the campus of South Carolina State in Orangeburg, South Carolina. Students were protesting segregation at an Orangeburg bowling alley. The Orangeburg massacre is the most common name given to an incident in which nine South Carolina Highway Patrol officers in Orangeburg, South Carolina, fired into a crowd of protesters demonstrating against segregation at a bowling alley near the campus of South Carolina State College, a historically black college. Three men were killed and twenty-eight persons were injured; most victims were shot in the back. One of the injured was a pregnant woman. She had a miscarriage a week later due to her beating by the police. It was the first unrest on a university campus resulting in deaths of protesters in the U.S.The event pre-dated the 1970 Kent State shootings and Jackson State killings, in which the National Guard at Kent State, and police and state highway patrol at Jackson State killed student protesters demonstrating against the United States invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

  • On this day in 1964, Malcolm X founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little and also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz] (Arabic: الحاجّ مالك الشباز‎), was an African-American Muslim minister and a human rights activist. To his admirers he was a courageous advocate for the rights of blacks, a man who indicted white America in the harshest terms for its crimes against black Americans; detractors accused him of preaching racism and violence. He has been called one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in history. The Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) was a Pan-Africanist organization founded by Malcolm X in 1964. The OAAU was modeled on the Organisation of African Unity, which had impressed Malcolm X during his visit to Africa in April and May 1964. The purpose of the OAAU was to fight for the human rights of African Americans and promote cooperation among Africans and people of African descent in the Americas.

  • On this date in 1944, Harry S. McAlpin was the first African American journalist admitted to a white house press conference.McAlpin covered Presidents Roosevelt and Truman for fifty-one black newspapers. He was also a Navy war correspondent and spokesman for the Department of Agriculture. Later McAlpin practiced law in Louisville, Kentucky, and was president of the local chapter of the NAACP. He died in 1985.

  • On this day in 1925, Marcus Garvey was taken to Atlanta Federal Penitentiary and incarcerated for his conviction of mail fraud. Students staged a strike at Fisk University to protest the policies of the white administration. He was later on deported back to Jamaica from New Orleans after Coolidge commuted his sentence.Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr., ONH was a Jamaican political leader, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, and orator who was a staunch proponent of the Black nationalism and Pan-Africanism movements, to which end he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL). He founded the Black Star Line, part of the Back-to-Africa movement, which promoted the return of the African diaspora to their ancestral lands.Prior to the twentieth century, leaders such as Prince Hall, Martin Delany, Edward Wilmot Blyden, and Henry Highland Garnet advocated the involvement of the African diaspora in African affairs. Garvey was unique in advancing a Pan-African philosophy to inspire a global mass movement and economic empowerment focusing on Africa known as Garveyism. Promoted by the UNIA as a movement of African Redemption, Garveyism would eventually inspire others, ranging from the Nation of Islam to the Rastafari movement (which proclaims Garvey as a prophet).Garveyism intended persons of African ancestry in the diaspora to “redeem” the nations of Africa and for the European colonial powers to leave the continent. His essential ideas about Africa were stated in an editorial in the Negro World entitled “African Fundamentalism”, where he wrote: “Our union must know no clime, boundary, or nationality… to let us hold together under all climes and in every country”

  • On this day in 1894, Congress repeals the Enforcement Act which makes it easier for some states to disenfranchise African American voters.The Enforcement Acts were three bills passed by the United States Congress between 1870 and 1871. They were criminal codes which protected blacks’ right to vote, to hold office, to serve on juries, and receive equal protection of laws. The laws also allowed the federal government to intervene when states did not act. These acts were passed following the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave full citizenship to anyone born in the United States or freed slaves, and the Fifteenth Amendment, which banned racial discrimination in voting. At the time, the lives of all newly freed slaves, and their political and economic rights were being threatened. This threat led to the creation of the Enforcement Acts.

  • On this day in 1884, Cetshwayo, king of the Zulus, died. Cetshwayo kaMpande was the King of the Zulu Kingdom from 1872 to 1879 and their leader during the Anglo-Zulu War (1879). His name has been transliterated as Cetawayo, Cetewayo, Cetywajo and Ketchwayo. He famously led the Zulu nation to victory against the British in the Battle of Isandlwana.

  • On this day in 1734, Intendant Gilles Hocquart issued an ordinance to curb slave escapes, directing the militia to recover a runaway and imposing fines on those who aided him in New France (now called Quebec). Hocquart was born in 1694, in Sainte-Croix, Mortagne-au-Perche to Jean-Hyacinthe Hocquart. From September, 1729 to August, 1748, Hocquart served as Intendant of New France, this being the longest lasting intendancy contract in the colony’s history. Hocquart put his faith in the Canadian bourgeoisie as the main player in the development of a profitable economy for the colony. Although his ideas were grand, he did not recognize the flaws that were already impeding the economy at a smaller scale. After a few rentable years, New France’s fragile economy began to crumble, and by the end of his contract, Hocquart was held responsible for too many extraodinary expenses. He was called home and replaced by Francois Bigot. Nonetheless, the years between 1737 and 1741 were among the most prosperous in the history of New France.