The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers

Augustus Duncan,[1] Executive Secretary, West Indian Protective Society of America, to Viscount Buxton, Governor-General of South Africa


I beg to convey to you confidentially the following information and suggestions to the end that Peace and good feeling shall continue between His Majesty's White and Colored subjects within the British Empire.
There is in this City an Organization known as the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, at the head of which is one Marcus Garvey, a Negro, a native of Jamaica[.] This Organization is not only Anti-White and Anti-British, but it is engaged in the most destruc[ti]ve and pernicious propaganda to create disturbance between White and Colored people in the British Possessions. This Organization employs as a medium through which to carry on its propaganda, a newspaper published in this City and known as the Negro World. So inciting and inflammable and purposely Colored are the news and editorial articles in this paper that the authorities in several of the Islands have been compelled to take energetic action to deny it admittance to those Islands and prevent its circulation among the Colored people thereof. It was the known radical attitude and friction-creating-policy of the Negro World that was responsible for the drastic newspaper ordinances recently enacted in British Guiana, St. Vincent and other West Indian Islands. The Republic of Costa Rica has just taken official action to keep the publication from being circulated within its territory.[2]
Another medium for carrying on the propaganda of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League is the Black Star Line which owns the Steamer "Yarmouth" (soon to be known as the Frederick Douglas [Douglass]). Of greater importance to Garvey and those associated with him in pushing this world-wide Pro-Negro and Anti-White and Anti-British Propaganda than the making of money through freight and passengers is the effect and impression that the presence of this Ship of the Black Star Line is expected to exert upon the Colored people of the Islands when it calls at their Ports.
Yet another and perhaps the most effective way of carrying on its propaganda is through the members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, and Stockholders of the Black-Star Line, who leave this Country for the West Indies and who are expected to stealthily work among the natives and stir up strife and discontent among them. These members and Stockholders of the above named Organizations faithfully perform the work that the suppressed Negro World cannot do, and thus sow seeds of discontent among the natives of the Islands to which they go. The recent bloody strikes in Trinidad when several persons were killed and wounded and much injury caused to shipping and other industries can be traced to the subtle and under-hand propaganda work of the agencies above referred to.[3]
I venture to suggest that your Excellency would be serving well the cause of the Empire and contributing in no small way to the promotion of Peace and good-feeling between the White and Colored people in the British Empire, should you cause to be carefully scrutinized and precautionary measures taken in the cases of all Colored persons coming into the Union of South Africa, from the United States and the Panama Canal[4] with the view of ascertaining whether such persons are members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, subscribers to and readers of the Negro World, Stockholders of or in any way connected with the Black Star Line. And upon affirmatively establishing any of these facts to exercise your official discretion as to their admission into the Union of South Africa. I have the honor to remain, Very truly yours,
Augustus Duncan Executive Secretary of the West Indian Protective Society of America[5]
SAGA, 168/74B, vol. 2. TLS, recipient's copy. On society letterhead.
[1] Samuel Augustus Duncan (b. 1880), director of the West Indian Protective Society of America (WIPSA), was born in Saint Kitts and lived in Bermuda before immigrating to the United States in May 1900. Duncan associated with Garvey when he first came to the U.S., but he soon became Garvey's critic and rival. He worked as a porter in Harlem and was editor of the Harlem Pilot-Gazette. In October 1916 he founded WIPSA, a Harlem-based group that aided West Indian immigrants to the U.S. During World War I, WIPSA members volunteered to form a separate West Indian-American regiment under joint U.S.-British command.
Duncan became one of the first members of the UNIA when Garvey reorganized the association in New York in 1917 and 1918. Duncan served as third vice president in November 1917, when Isaac Allen was president and Garvey internal organizer. Duncan soon challenged Garvey's leadership of the fledgling organization and briefly seized control of the group when elected president in early 1918; Garvey then resigned in protest. Duncan's UNIA faction and a Garvey-led counter group held competing meetings in Harlem until interest in Duncan's leadership waned. Duncan then returned to his work with WIPSA, which came to be known by a series of names recalling the UNIA, such as Universal Improvement and Cooperative Association and Universal Negro Protective and Cooperative Association. A letter written on 25 February 1920 by R. C. Lindsay of the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., to Sir Leslie Probyn, the governor of Jamaica, stated that a representative of the British consul general had attended some meetings of Duncan's society "without . . . being very much impressed by the value of the organization." Lindsay added that "the members themselves appear to be quite harmless," but he warned that "their Executive Secretary, Mr. Augustus Duncan, . . . appears to be something of an agitator" (PRO, FO 115/2619). In 1920 Duncan wrote to British colonial officials in the Caribbean and Africa, charging Garvey with radical intent. Garvey publicly lambasted Duncan for writing that letter and named Duncan in a 1924 editorial condemning black leaders and intellectuals for actions taken against him in order to undermine his organization (MGP 1:224 n. 1, 233, 2:li, 188–190, 226–228, 265, 5:726).
[2] The Negro World was suppressed by the authorities in British Honduras in February 1919, when Acting Governor Robert Walter described the paper as "inflammatory rubbish" whose availability was undesirable in the colony (MGP 1:362). There is evidence that surreptitious circulation actually increased, rather than decreased, after it was banned, and that the prohibition of the paper was one of the issues that incited demonstrators in the Belize Riot of 22 July 1919. The governor of Trinidad ordered seizure of the UNIA paper as seditious in early 1919. Similar censorship struck in British Guiana in May 1919, and importation of the Negro World was officially banned there in July of the same year. On 19 August 1919 the governor of the Windward Islands urged that legislation be passed to formalize exclusion of the paper; at the same time, the governor of Grenada requested that special executive powers to ban the publication be granted to West Indian governors by the British colonial secretary. The next day, copies of the Negro World were seized by authorities in Port Limón, Costa Rica. The British colonial secretary, Lord Milner, responded to the colonial governors' requests with the advice that "in view of the existence of some unrest among the coloured population of the West Indies, [they] should be prepared . . . to suppress any publications of a character either seditious or calculated to incite to crime" (MGP 1:427–428 n. 1). Seditious-publications ordinances were subsequently passed in the Bahamas (1919), Grenada (1920), the Leeward Islands (1920), Saint Vincent (1920), Trinidad (1920), and the B.W.I. (1919–1920) (W. F. Elkins, "Marcus Garvey, the Negro World, and the British West Indies, 1919–1920," Science and Society 36, no. 1 [spring 1972]: 63–77; MGP 1, 2).
[3] The Trinidad Working Men's Association (TWMA) called a strike of stevedores, lightermen, and warehousemen at Port of Spain on 14 November 1919. Garveyites played a prominent role in the strike, especially John Sydney de Bourg, a founder of the TWMA and a leader of its radical faction. The Negro World had already been unofficially banned in Trinidad. However, after the strike, when the ban was made official, speakers at TWMA meetings continued to read "verbatim quotations from the 'Negro World' and the writings of Marcus Garvey" (J. R. Chancellor, governor of Trinidad, to Milner, 30 November 1920, PRO, CO 318/356). The workers struck for higher wages and a shorter workday. Government opposition to the TWMA had blocked official recognition, and local shipping interests showed no disposition to negotiate, so workers from the countryside of Trinidad and from Venezuela were brought in to replace the strikers. Rioting began on 1 December, when strikers and their supporters entered the shipping warehouses that employed strikebreakers, forcing them to close down; afterward, they marched through the city's business district, closing shops and disrupting public transportation. Thousands of people who were not involved in the original strike participated in the three days of disturbances, which became a popular manifestation of discontent with colonial rule. Fearing a general uprising, Governor John Chancellor created a conciliation board consisting of TWMA representatives, the shipping agents, and the government. The authorities were also concerned during the rioting with the loyalty of the local police, who were mostly black and who "appeared to have looked on and laughed" unless they were given direct orders to act by white officers (Henry D. Baker, American consul, "Rioting in Trinidad," DNA, RG 59, file 844 G. 5045–3). The report of the special commission of inquiry, however, generally commended the police for their loyalty. On 3 December, the shipping agents and the representatives of the TWMA agreed to a 25 percent wage increase. Although the crisis had subsided, rioting continued to spread through rural Trinidad ("Disturbances in Port of Spain: Reports by the Commissioners Appointed to Enquire into the Conduct of the Constabulary," PRO, CO 318; W. F. Elkins, "Black Power in the British West Indies: The Trinidad Longshoremen's Strike of 1919," Science and Society 33 [winter 1969]: 71–75; Tony Martin, "Revolutionary Upheaval in Trinidad, 1919: Views from British and American Sources," JNH 58, no. 3 [July 1973]: 313–326).
[4] The Panama Canal was built largely with West Indian labor. American contractors campaigned to attract people from the Caribbean in 1904 and by 1907 had brought in twenty thousand workers, mainly from Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, and Martinique. These laborers were subject to discrimination by many Panamanians, white Americans, and the local police. Wages were paid on an unequal basis for similar or identical work. In 1904 there was a general strike of black workers on the Panama Railroad, and this gave the impetus to an attempt to unionize West Indian labor. Language barriers, however, hindered efforts at unionization, while employers and police opposition also impeded union growth. With the canal's completion in 1914, many West Indians remained in Panama and formed their own separate communities (L. L. Lewis, "The West Indian in Panama: Black Labor in 1850–1914" [Ph.D. diss., Tulane University, 1975]; Olive Senior, "The Colon People," Jamaica Journal 11 [March 1978]: 62–71; ibid. [September 1978]: 87–103).
[5] Copies of this letter were passed along to the minister of native affairs and the secretary for the interior in Pretoria.