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Universal Negro Improvement Association

The Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) was launched in 1914 by Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican-born political activist and journalist, with the aim of united Black people throughout the world and creating a new Black nation on the continent of Africa.

Two years later Garvey emigrated to the United States and used UNIA to increase Black American pride in their colour, culture and history.

Against the backdrop of race riots, lynchings and even films like ‘Birth of a Nation’, Garvey’s message that there was no place for Black people in America resonated with a lot of people. By 1921 the UNIA had over one million members.

His plan to repatriate to Africa provided a huge sense of hope to millions of Black Americans.

Central to his plans was the creation of the Black Star Line, a steamship company to take Black Americans back to their racial homeland. The plan was to buy ships through the donations from African American people in return for a share in the company.

UNIA was a more militant rival to the NAACP and there were disputes and even some clashes between their supporters.

Before long, his actions caught the attention of J. Edgar Hoover’s fledgling FBI, which began monitoring Garvey and seeking grounds for his arrest and deportation. Black FBI agents infiltrated the group and existing members were turned.

It wasn’t long before Hoover alleged that Garvey had been committing mail fraud with the Black Star Line. In 1925 he was arrested and placed in jail and two years later was deported to the UK, where he died aged 52 in 1940.

He remains a controversial figure to some, but has received praise for encouraging a sense of pride and self-worth among Africans and the African diaspora. In Jamaica he is widely regarded as a national hero.