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African American Social Issues In The 1920s Essay

When we consider the act of influencing people to act against their own wills, it is natural to describe the physical. One may think of the gravity of a firearm, or of any threat of physical violence. While surely and realistically these concrete powers are involved in strong-arming another person or group of people, some of the most powerful forces at work do not exist as obviously as we expect them to.

Although we may not been acutely aware of the very real, the ever-shifting, and the forceful tides of social influence, though they may not be tangible like firearms or fists, their invisible wills spur radical change in the world. One of the most prominent social issues in the United States today and historically has been race, and equal treatment and opportunities for Black people. The period of time leading up to and the period of time following the St. Louis race riots of 1917 and 1919’s “Red Summer” (People & Events: Marcus Garvey) marked a pointedly tense chunk of history between White and Black Americans.

If we are looking at the country’s racial problems on a timeline, from the kidnapping of African people and their shipment to the United States as slaves, until this very moment in history where things like institutional racism and racially-driven police brutality are commonalities, it is not surprising that many in the African American community considered fleeing the country in the 1920’s, and it is not even surprising that a handful of African Americans actually did flee.

Maybe hateful racism and the constant potential of racial violence are not tangible, but for those who were or are threatened by such an overwhelming force, the fear can be quite nearly so. The animosity and relentless oppression happening during this clip of history left the African American community at a loss, and this is where Marcus Garvey, talented Jamaican orator and activist, filled the void of leadership and headed the first mass U. S. ovement for racial justice: the “Back to Africa” movement, where African Americans were encouraged to emigrate to African country Liberia for a better life; although a recycled train of thought, Garvey brought new life into the old concept, revitalized it with the passion of the times, and in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior himself, “[Marcus Garvey] was the first man of color to lead and develop a mass movement. He was the first man on a mass scale and level to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny. And make the Negro feel he was somebody” (Malik, Asad).

In a social climate so antagonistic, it is important to realize that although Garvey’s intentions were not morally aligned with the country’s racism or hatred, the two factors worked together in order to physically unsettle and relocate handfuls of African Americans. If we again utilize the analogy of a firearm, the threat and the actualities of danger existed in America’s oppressive, anti-Black attitudes, and the words of salvation, inadvertently overlapping with anti-Black demands, was Garvey’s rallying cry to pick up and leave.

Whether or not the African Americans who left did so on their own schedules, the powers in action within those scenarios rendered those people unwilling emigrants. Therefore, it is fair to argue that working in conjunction with one another, the hostile racial environment of 1920’s U. S. A. and Marcus Garvey’s powerful, inspiring rhetoric led to a small, yet diasporic, movement of African Americans to Liberia. Similarly to racism, as aforementioned, the concept of Black Americans emigrating “Back to Africa” was not new in the 1920’s U. S..

Although Marcus Garvey was the movement’s most famous leader, colonizing in Liberia stretches as far back as 1816, when the American Colonization Society (ACS) was founded. From 1820 until the its end in 1964, the organization sent 13,000 Black people to the African region, and was backed by three main groups of people: white slave owners, ordinary white citizens, and Black people. White slave owners, “saw free blacks as a threat to slavery, both as possible troublemakers and as living examples that gave lie to the idea that blacks were fit only to be slaves,” while ordinary white citizens, on the other hand, “... eared free black labour, [and] thought America was for whites” (Abagond).

Even Abraham Lincoln, often lauded for his humanitarian values and credited with ‘freeing the slaves’, “... was open to promoting the idea, [but] several abolitionists in his et opposed it. some for moral considerations and others for the more practical reason of retaining sufficient labor and military forces for the future” (U. S. Department of State). These various manifestations of white supremacy and racism led certain Black Americans, such as abolitionist Martin Delany, to push for Black resettlement in Liberia due to the United States of America being, “… oo racist for blacks ever to have much of a future there” (Abagond).

Logistically, Liberia posed difficulties to emigrants, including a harsh climate, the endemic spread of malaria, and bloodshed during battles with native West African tribes. In spite of these obstacles, though, the parts those late 19th century African Americans who managed to successfully emigrate to Liberia played in Black history are significantly underrated; as Barbara Palmer of Stanford News reports: The survival of their [Americo-Liberian] nation made an important though often overlooked contribution to black pride and hope… and] also underlined the futility of progress for blacks in a society dedicated to white supremacy… Slave emancipation in the northern states had led to a black population living in abject poverty and deprived of education, civil rights and any hope of meaningful improvement… Although colonization was in many ways disastrous… the experience of African Americans in Liberia helped nourish black nationalism and, in turn, an increasingly popular domestic demand for equal civil rights. (Palmer, Barbara).

Even taking into account the accountable hardships that came with emigration to Liberia, Black Americans’ interest in the region did not diminish with time, allowing for Marcus Garvey to revisit and reinvent the idea as a mass social movement. The United States of America, circa the 1920’s, was a perfect breeding ground for mass social movement within the Black community; the appeal to “go back” to Africa was at one of its popularity-peaks during the 1920’s, after multiple race riots and after Black Americans who had migrated to the northern states realized how racism was not exclusive to the southern United States. Abagond).

Evidently, the want to emigrate to Liberia was a product of white America’s racism and oppression, and the hardships faced in Liberia by the settlers were often considered worthy when compared with the treatment they faced in the States; the awfulness of social climate in the United States can be understood through one Americo-Liberian settler’s account of Liberia, again, in spite of the region’s presented hardships: [It was] the colored man’s home, the only place on earth where they have equal rights… here are no white men here to give orders; and when you go in your house, there is no one to stand out, and call you to the door and shoot you when you come out. We have no foreman over us; we are our own boss. We work when we want to, and sit down when we choose, and eat when we get ready. (Barnes, Kenneth C). Clearly, the United States had been in a state of racial unrest for a while, and during the 1920’s spike in this unrest, Marcus Garvey entered the scene.

Born Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the “Back to Africa” face was a Jamaican-born political leader, journalist, entrepreneur, and orator for the Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism movements. Marcus Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) in 1914. Garvey’s Pan-African philosophy inspired the Garveyism movement, where Marcus Garvey “melded Jamaican peasant aspirations for economic and cultural independence with the American gospel of success to create a new gospel of racial pride.

‘Garveyism’ eventually evolved into a religion of success, inspiring millions of black people worldwide ho sought relief from racism and colonialism” (People & Events: Marcus Garvey). Garveyism even went on later to inspire such leaders as Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Nelson Mandela, all pivotal figures in future movements fighting for racial equality. Garvey founded the U. N. T. A. with the objective of unifying African diaspora to establish their own country, which would later become known as Liberia. In 1916 Garvey came to the United States to settle a U. N. I. A. chapter in Harlem, New York, where he promoted the idea of a separatist philosophy for African Americans.

In 1918 Garvey began publishing a newspaper called “Negro World” where he could relay his messages. Another component of his activity, the Black Star Line was a shipping company founded by Marcus Garvey in 1919. Marcus Garvey planned on using the Black Star Line not only a shipping line, but as a passenger line that would return the African diaspora “back to Africa”. Garvey also notably started the Negros Factories Association around the same time, which featured a string of companies manufacturing marketable good in industrial centers in Western Africa.

By 1920, the U. N. I. A. had almost four million members. Their first International Convention gathered a crowd of 25,000 people in Madison Square Garden, where Garvey spoke about his pride in African culture and history. His talent with words drew crowds and followers; for some, Garvey’s words and the success stories of former Liberian settlers were more metaphorical for the possibilities, essentially representing what Black Americans were capable of doing, rather than an actual call to emigrate to Africa.

A Stanford professor and slavery scholar, David Davis, notes how, “Today, it is difficult to understand the elation and pride that swept through America’s urban black community in 1924 when Marcus Garvey… dispatched a delegation to Liberia and eulogized that nation’s founders and rulers: ‘They have been able,’ Garvey said, ‘to arouse the sleeping consciousness of the four hundred million Negroes of the world to go to the rescue, to help build Liberia and make her one of the greatest ations of the world. And we are going to do it. ” (Davis, David B, 123). For a handful of African Americans, however, Garvey’s words were not only empowering, but an escape route to the imminent threats they faced in the United States. Although unknowingly, and although working for the greater good, Marcus Garvey also served the purposes of the societal pressures surrounding the issue.

While many African Americans found his words inspiring, there were also many established black leaders, including W. E. B. Du Bois, who were not fond of his separatist philosophy; in his magazine “the Crisis”, W. E. B. Du Bois even wrote he, “hopes that Garvey will not produce too much damage” (Kiss, Eva ). Obviously, while there were many African Americans who supported Garvey for his inspirational merit, there were other African American leaders who recognized the potentially negative implications for some of his followers.

Although scholar David Davis does defends, “With respect to the intractability of prejudice and racial conflict, the colonizationists were clearly better prognosticators than the abolitionists… [and] Marcus Garvey acknowledged this point,” (Davis, David B, 134), we must keep in mind how the States’ hostile social climate, acting as a threatening presence to 1920’s African Americans, played a part in driving pockets of Black Americans to settle amongst the harsh African climate.

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