The largest organized mass movement of Black people in recorded history
The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and the anti-apartheid movement that swept the globe in the 1980s are undoubtedly more well-known when it comes to mass action in support of Black empowerment around the world. However, Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association – African Communities League still holds the record for the largest and most successful attempt to organize Black people globally to advance their own interests.
Without relying on the support of wealthy white patrons or philanthropic institutions, Garvey and his followers built more than 1,000 chapters in 40 countries across three continents. At its height, the UNIA boasted 2-4 million members.
In the July 1988 issue of NAACP’s Crisis magazine, longtime Pan-African organizer Kwame Ture notes that “the idea of mass party itself, Nkrumah would tell all, came from the Honorable Marcus Garvey, who injected the mass character into the Pan-African struggle with the Universal Negro Improvement Association.”
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In addition to political activism, UNIA was an economic engine that published a newspaper called Negro World in multiple languages, ran an international shipping company called the Black Star Line, and developed the Negro Factories Corporation, which “generated income and provided jobs by its numerous enterprises, including a chain of grocery stores and restaurants, steam laundry, tailor shop, dress making shop, millinery store (clothing, fashion, hats, accessories, etc.), publishing house and doll factory,” Black History Studies website reports. “In New York City alone, Garvey owned several buildings, owned a fleet of trucks and had over 1,000 Black people working in his businesses. Marcus Garvey’s U.N.I.A. also operated the Phyllis Wheatley Hotel.”