The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers

Article in the Negro World[1]

African Speaker Thrills New York Audience— Tells of Native Power

[ . . . ][2] the chairman[3] introduced as the next speaker Mr. Cooper,[4] a native of Liberia, West Africa.
Mr. Cooper literally took the house by storm by his unsuspected eloquence. With picturesque phraseology he graphically told his audience of some of the latent powers of the Negro race in its native habitat. The audience showed its appreciation for the many good things it had listened to during the evening by its hearty response to the appeal made for funds for the Black Star Line.[5] [ . . . ][6]
Printed in NW, 14 June 1919. Text abridged.
[1] The Negro World, a weekly newspaper with worldwide circulation created by Marcus Garvey, was the official organ of the UNIA and ACL. Garvey first planned to produce the newspaper in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1914, but did not actually begin publication until after his move to the U.S. The paper, produced in New York beginning in August 1918, was initially financed by the New York local division of the UNIA, which owned the ACL stock corporation under which the periodical operated. As membership in the UNIA grew and the circulation of the Negro World surpassed sixty thousand, the New York local sold its interest in the paper to the parent body of the UNIA, which was also headquartered in New York. The paper was issued on Saturdays and was printed by the Henri Rogowski Company, which also printed the socialist New York Call. It featured a front-page editorial letter by Garvey; news items covering current events concerning politics and the status of blacks in the U.S. and abroad; reports on UNIA enterprises; descriptions of the activities of local divisions and of UNIA leaders and organizers; and commercial advertisements. A Spanish-language section was begun in 1923, and a French-language section was added in 1924. A page called "Our Women and What They Think" was added during the tenure of Amy Jacques Garvey as associate editor from 1924 to 1927. Marcus Garvey served as managing editor from the paper's inception on his birthday, 17 August 1918, until his split with the New York division leadership in the early 1930s. At its peak, the UNIA organ had an international distribution that included the Caribbean, Central America, Canada, Europe, and Africa, with a circulation of two hundred thousand (NW, 1918–1933; MGP 1–7).
[2] The elided text describes speeches by Edgar M. Grey and Henrietta Vinton Davis.
[3] UNIA general secretary Edgar Mussington Grey (b. 1890), bookkeeper and journalist, was born in Sierra Leone, probably the son of West Indian parents. After receiving his early education at a missionary school in Freetown, he attended Buston Grove High School in Saint Johns, Antigua, B.W.I. In 1906 he worked as an interpreter for the U.S. government in Puerto Rico, and from 1907 to 1909 he served as English secretary to Don Juan Moncastro, president of the Dominican Republic. He then traveled to Scotland to study at Aberdeen University (1909–1911). Moving to the U.S. in 1911, he worked first as a postal clerk and then as a bookkeeper for the Daily Lunch Corporation. Grey met Garvey for the first time on 13 May 1917, when he introduced Garvey on the platform of a mass meeting in Harlem. In July 1918 Grey enlisted in the U.S. Army, and in November of that year was naturalized as an American citizen. Discharged from the army in April 1919, he organized the Foreign Born Citizens Political Alliance. Shortly thereafter, on 6 May 1919, Garvey employed him as a general secretary of the UNIA, secretary of the New York local division, advertising and business manager of the Negro World, and, after 27 June 1919, director and assistant secretary of the Black Star Line (BSL). He had severed his connections with Garvey, however, by 18 July 1919, and was officially expelled from the UNIA on 2 August 1919. Grey was also a professional chiropractor after May 1921; he was reemployed by the post office, and in 1925 he also embarked upon a career in journalism—first as associate editor of the New York News and later as a contributing editor to the New York Amsterdam News (1926–1928) and the American and West Indian News (1929) (MGP 1:211–212 n. 3).
[4] The identity of this man cannot be clearly ascertained, although there are several possibilities. An individual named "Cooper" is one of many people treated in a lengthy Bureau of Investigation file relating to black radical activities in New York. Cooper is described by "Special Confidential Employee WW" in a 6 February 1920 report: "I have met this individual before, and I know that he is very prejudiced against this country; in fact, he declared that he could never fight for this country, and when he was forced to the issue he left this country and joined the British army. His case is unimportant and he assumes no leadership among the people of his race, but I will nevertheless keep in touch with his movements." There is no evidence, however, that this person has any connection to Liberia.
Another possibility is James W. Cooper, sometime Liberian cabinet member who resigned in 1921 under suspicion of misappropriating funds. Cooper was part of a prominent Liberian family, and he was the cousin of President C. B. D. King's wife.
The man addressing the meeting may alternatively have been James F. Cooper, appointed secretary of the Liberian Treasury in 1916 but forced to resign the following year. A 1922 diplomatic dispatch described him as "anti-American in sentiment and it is generally understood that he was appointed to his present position as Secretary of War and Interior for the purpose of thwarting the efforts of the American Commission to collect and apply the Internal Revenue taxes as provided by the new plan, and divert said revenue to improper channels." On 8 July 1922 he was reported to have sailed to the U.S. to visit friends, and it was also mentioned that his wife had been in America for about a year (Timothy Connelly, research archivist, National Historical Publications and Records Commission, Washington, D.C., to Robert A. Hill, 28 October 1993).
[5] In early 1919 Garvey began propagating the idea of a shipping company that would offer a black-owned alternative to the trade and passenger services cartel of the white-dominated shipping industry. The BSL was designed to promote commerce and a greater distribution of resources among blacks in the United States, Africa, and the Caribbean. It offered an immediate investment opportunity for black shareholders as well as the promise of a passenger line between Africa and the Americas to be developed at some future date. It was officially incorporated in the state of Delaware on 23 June 1919 with a total authorized capital stock of five hundred thousand dollars, divided into one hundred thousand five-dollar shares. According to the certificate of incorporation, the shipping line began business with a capital stock of one thousand dollars, or two hundred shares (based on an investment of forty shares each by individual subscribers). A Bureau of Investigation informant alleged, however, that "this stock never was issued or paid for, notwithstanding it was the declared capital with which they were to commence business" (MGP 1:441–444, 560). BSL stock was sold at UNIA meetings and conventions by traveling BSL agents, by mailed circulars, and through advertisements in the UNIA organ, the Negro World. Stock was sold exclusively to blacks and there was a limit of two hundred shares per investor.
The BSL never achieved its capitalization goals; indeed, it lacked the necessary funds to carry out its first purchase agreement for the SS Yarmouth in October 1919. As a result, the BSL directors were forced to renegotiate, allowing for a larger purchase price ($168,500) to be met with gradual periodic payments; they began operation of their first ship, then, before they had actually obtained legal ownership of it. In February 1920 Garvey attempted to boost stock sales with the announcement that the corporation's capitalization had been increased to $10 million, urging those who already held stock to "buy more shares" (MGP 2:225).
By the end of 1920, the BSL had acquired three ships. The first, the SS Yarmouth (renamed the SS Frederick Douglass), had its maiden BSL voyage in November 1919 and was used primarily for trade and passage between the Caribbean and the United States. The SS Shadyside, a Hudson River excursion boat, and the steam yacht Kanawha (renamed the SS Antonio Maceo) were added the following year. The BSL enjoyed great success in capturing the world's imagination as a display of black pride and as a symbol of the possibilities of black enterprise and economic self-sufficiency. Its actual operation, however, was plagued by financial problems, a rapid turnover in crew personnel (due in part to nonpayment of wages), and a series of mishaps and recurring breakdowns that necessitated costly repairs. Operation was officially suspended in February 1922, when Garvey was indicted on mail-fraud charges, and the line was soon declared bankrupt (BMo, pp. 50–60, 80–102; MGP 1–3).
[6] The elided text describes the conclusion of the program, which included a musical performance and an appeal by Cooper for contributions.