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Garveyism Looks Toward the Pacific: The UNIA and Black Workers in the American West

In the article below historian Robin Dearmon Muhammad discusses the growth of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) or the Garvey Movement in the American West, with particular emphasis on its influence in black working-class organizing in the San Francisco Bay Area after World War I.

Garveyism found an unlikely frontier in the American West.  Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) visited the American West only a few times but the work of the UNIA had alasting impact on the black experience in the region. Promoting black self-help, black pride, and African liberation, UNIA members in the westtied international developments in Latin America, Asia, and Africa to their own aspirations for black advancement.  As they observed the expansion of American influence across the Pacific, the western African Americans local UNIA divisions demonstrated an international perspectivethat assisted them in defining their place in the west and the larger Pacific economy.  

Black workers formed the backbone of the UNIA in the west and set the agenda for expanding black political and economic activity.  Getting theword out about the UNIA took many forms.  The UNIA newspaper, the Negro World challengedthe rising tide of racial hostility toward people of color throughout the west.  Covering stories of African American achievement in the region that might not otherwise be reported in the mainstream press, theNegro World chronicled the progress of black labor and civil rights organizations as well as black businesses.  The Negro World alsoreported on uprisings and revolutions in Latin America and Asia that mirrored the aspirations of the Garveyites’ own fight for black freedom.In that way, the newspaper tied these relatively small western communities to ongoing global struggles for racial justice.

Mass rallies, regularly described in Negro World were another common organizing method of black workers in the west. Such organizing paralleled the efforts of Garveyites in the region and

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