The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers

John E. Bruce to J. J. Dossen,[1] Chief Justice, Liberian Supreme Court

My dear Judge Dossen:

I had hoped up to within the past ten days or two weeks to have notified you by cable, that I was leaving this country for Liberia, with a deputation of Negro gentlemen[2] representing the Great Race Movement inaugurated by the Honorable Marcus Garvey—The Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League with its allied branches, The Black Star S/S Line and Negro Factories Corporations[3]—but a rigid physical examination by my physician developed that my health, together with my age, would not justify me in taking such a long journey, changing climates so suddenly, so I had to give up my cherished hope of seeing Africa, also from becoming your guest and make room for a younger and more vigorous man than myself.
I am therefore asking the chairman of the deputation [Hubert H. Harrison][4] who is a brilliant, able, scholarly young gentleman, a warm and personal friend of mine to present you this letter, and to introduce to you his associates, all of whom are well and favorably known to me as men of integrity and character and imbued with desire to render to Africa, such service as will make for its greater uplift, nationally, commercially, industrially and educationally.
Personally and in their behalf I confidently invoke the exercise of your good offices, in presenting them to our friend and brethren in Liberia, who you believe will be interested in the accomplishment of their Mission, viz: to strengthen the bonds of amity between the two great branches of the Negro race, to open up trade and commercial relations on a broader scale than now prevail[s]; to know each other better than it has hither to been possible; and to weld together the Negro race throughout the whole world, beginning at Africa, through the mediums of trade, commerce, manufactures and all those agencies which have unified and strengthened the Anglo-Saxon race throughout the world.
Behind this Movement, begun in this country are 3.000.000 Negroes[;] the Honorable Marcus Garvey, its founder[,] has successfully organized the race consciousness of the Negroes on this side and they are doing things. My friends will inform you fully of what the organization is accomplishing in a practical way towards Negro Manhood and Independence. Sincerely yours,
[John E. Bruce]
NN-Sc, JEB, BL 40. TL, carbon copy.
[1] James Jenkins Dossen (1858 or 1867–1924), Liberian political leader, acted as vice president during the presidency of Arthur Barclay (1904–1912) and subsequently served as chief justice of the Liberian Supreme Court. A member of a prominent Maryland County family in southeastern Liberia, Dossen was born in the county seat of Harper and entered public life in the last years of the nineteenth century. From 1899 to 1906, as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, he was responsible for numerous codifications of Liberian law. He served as envoy extraordinary to France and the U.S. in 1908, as vice president of Liberia from 1906 to 1912, and as president of Liberia College in 1913. From 1913 until his death, he headed the court as chief justice. Mentioned as a candidate for the Liberian presidency in 1919, Dossen was one of the most prominent Liberians to support the UNIA.
Dossen held a controlling interest in three Liberian firms, the Excelsior Mining Company, the Mountain Mining Company, and the Union Mining Company, which possessed extensive mining, timber, and land concessions in Cape Palmas and in Sino (or Sinoe) and Grand Bassa counties. By 1912 he had become a key figure in Lever Brothers, the British concern that was increasingly monopolizing Liberian business concessions through its subsidiaries, the Atlantic Coast Development Company and the Liberia International Corporation. During and after World War I, Dossen intervened in the Liberian legislature to expand the concession rights of these firms. Referring to Dossen's initiative, the U.S. chargé d'affaires remarked in 1918 that, if successful, Dossen and his group would control rights in more than one-half of the country.
Dossen's connection with the UNIA originated in his interest in developing Liberia's trade and in his long acquaintance with John E. Bruce, whom he had met on his 1908 visit to the U.S. At that time Bruce and the black businessman Jacques R. Nassy had interested Dossen in a plan for a large business enterprise in Liberia which would be financed with black American capital. Dossen was suspicious of such financial ventures, stating that "you can't raise capital for any large enterprise by selling stock at a dollar per share; and yet this is the plan adopted by most if not all the [Negro] companies, who have been approaching Liberia" (NN-Sc, JEB, letters D.4).
Despite his close connections to British financial circles, Dossen was one of the architects of the intended Liberian rapprochement with the U.S., initiated in 1908. During his 1908 U.S. mission, he promoted American investment in Liberia, particularly in the railways, and apparently managed to elicit Booker T. Washington's interest. Dossen later wrote that the danger of Liberia succumbing to European rule was so imminent that the people of Liberia were willing to become instead a de facto American protectorate. Aware of the difficulties that a U.S. presence in a European-dominated West Africa would create, U.S. secretary of state Elihu Root rejected the protectorate idea and instead committed American technical and material aid, which also helped to achieve Dossen's aim of preventing Liberia's absorption into a European empire.
Dossen also advocated the establishment of steamship service between the U.S. and Liberia, and he believed that the American "race problem" would find solution in immigration of black Americans to Liberia. As he wrote,
“among the most urgent needs of Liberia is that of immigration. A country with an area of nearly 45,000 square miles and a civilized and governing population estimated at only 30,000 is an extraordinary spectacle. We need immigrants to build up the waste places; to plant strong and industrial centers in the rich and virgin backlands and on the Manoh, the Makona and the Cavalla Rivers, which form the frontiers of the Republic. We need accessions to plan Christian civilization in our remote Hinterland and to teach the 2,000,000 indigenous population the peaceful pursuits of Western civilization. (James J. Dossen, "Past, Present and Future of Liberia," Independent 44, no. 3,083 [2 January 1908]: 21–26)”
Dossen is believed to have been the choice in 1919 of the "pro-American" faction within the True Whig party to succeed Daniel Howard as Liberian president. Dossen nonetheless supported the Howard and C. D. B. King administration's plan for a five-million-dollar U.S. loan. When the loan's terms were revealed in Liberia in June 1920, however, Dossen opposed them, saying that the
“provisions and conditions of this Plan differed so materially from what every Liberian had expected; and, the principles upon which the whole scheme was founded [were] so fundamentally against the Liberian ideals and aspirations, that it was promptly rejected even by the staunch friends of America—some of whom had been the chief actors in the movement towards a stronger bond with the U.S. inaugurated in 1908, and which it was expected that this Plan for the alleged rehabilitation of our finances aimed to effectuate. (Liberian News, January 1921)”
After the Liberian legislature rejected the loan proposal in July 1920, Dossen authored the Maryland Resolutions, which became True Whig party policy toward future loan dealings and eventually became Liberian government policy in subsequent negotiations. Dossen also backed the sending of a Liberian plenary commission to Washington, D.C., in 1921 to reopen the loan negotiations, and he believed that the black American community would provide moral support to that commission.
In February 1924 Dossen was among the group of leading Liberians—along with former Liberian presidents Arthur Barclay and Daniel Howard—who extended a welcome to the third UNIA delegation. Regarding the U.S. Senate's 1922 rejection of the Liberian loan, Dossen was reported to have told the delegation, "Others have refused to help us and there is absolutely no other agent in the world; there is at this time no hand nor friend in sight, but the great intrepid leader of the U.N.I.A. Marcus Garvey" (NW, 6 December 1924). Shortly thereafter, Dossen joined an unofficial committee of Liberians developing a plan for UNIA settlement. Liberian president King had apparently given his unofficial approval of this committee, but in July 1924 the government launched a campaign repudiating the UNIA colonization plan. Dossen, who suffered from diabetes, died on 17 August. He was eulogized by Garvey in a Negro World editorial of 20 September as "one of the race's greatest characters." At the time of his demise it was rumored that enemies of the UNIA had deprived him of needed medication (DNA, RG 59, file 882.00/58; Svend Holsoe, Institute for Liberian Studies, Philadelphia, to Ibrahim Sundiata, 18 November 1985; NW, 6 September 1924; Frederick Starr, Liberia: Description, History, Problems [Chicago: Frederick Starr, 1913], p. 90; Nathaniel R. Richardson, Liberia' s Past and Present [London: Diplomatic Press and Publishing Co., 1959], pp. 283–287).
Arthur Barclay
[2] Although the initial plan was for a UNIA delegation of four men (Bruce, Elie Garcia, James W. H. Eason, and delegation chairman Hubert Harrison) to travel to Liberia, only Garcia actually made the trip. Bruce, who suffered from chronic ill health, was advised by his physician not to travel. Eason and Harrison were denied passports after the Bureau of Investigation and Department of State warned the head of the New York passport office that both men were radicals (MGP 2:320 n. 21, 336, 660–673).
[3] Garvey announced at a Liberty Hall meeting on 1 February 1920 that the UNIA's Negro Factories Corporation (NFC) had been incorporated a few days earlier with a capitalization of one million dollars, or two hundred thousand shares of common stock available to members of the black race at five dollars per share. Garvey, John G. Bayne, and William Ferris signed the certificate of incorporation filed in New York on 23 January 1920, and on 30 January 1920 the NFC was incorporated under the laws of the state of Delaware. Amy Jacques (Garvey's executive assistant and, later, his wife) became secretary of the NFC as part of her expanding duties as office manager at UNIA headquarters. Garvey entreated UNIA members to purchase shares in the NFC in order to "put up more factories in the great industrial centers of the world where our people live and move and long for their own in industry and commerce" (MGP 2:299). NFC advertisements urged investors to "Build Factories! Operate Factories! And Control Your Own Destiny," and pictured industrial settings with jobs for clerks, engineers, managers, mechanics, stenographers, and superintendents (MGP 2:337; 4:49). As with the BSL, NFC enterprises were plagued by chronic financial and staffing difficulties. The first NFC businesses were the Universal Steam Laundry, with a tailoring and dressmaking department, and a millinery shop with a hat-making factory, both established in Harlem. The laundry was insolvent by 1921. Other short-lived NFC businesses included the Universal Baking Company, three grocery stores, and two restaurants. The NFC was effectively defunct by the end of 1922 (MGP 2, 4).
[4] Hubert H. Harrison (1883–1927), journalist, political activist, and brilliant orator who helped shape the radical wing of the New Negro movement in Harlem, was lauded by his peers as one of the most outstanding intellectuals of his time. He has been credited with originating the slogan "Race First!" and for being among the foremost black leaders to articulate a radical nationalist political platform in the interwar period. The 27 March 1920 issue of the Emancipator stated that Harrison was the "forerunner of Garvey and contributed largely to the success of the latter by preparing the minds of Negroes through his lectures, thereby moulding and developing a new temper among Negroes which undoubtedly made the task of the Jamaican much easier than it otherwise would have been" (MGP 2:272).
Born in Saint Croix, Virgin Islands, Harrison immigrated to the U.S. in 1900. He joined a Harlem branch of the Socialist Party of America in 1909 and soon became one of its most distinguished organizers. Previously a contributing writer for the New York Times, he began writing for the New York Call and became an assistant editor of the radical paper the Masses. After two years of party work, he fell out of favor with party leaders over the priorities given to recruiting black members and to supporting industrial unionization. He left the party in 1914 but continued to write and speak forcefully from a socialist-black nationalist perspective. He formed the nationalist Harlem People's Forum in 1916 and the militant Liberty League of Negro-Americans in 1917. He also edited the Liberty League organ, the Voice.
During this period Garvey met Harrison, was influenced by his thought, and benefited from his political organization. Garvey attended Liberty League meetings, and many league members joined the UNIA when he reformulated it in New York in 1917 and 1918. Harrison joined other National Equal Rights League officials in organizing the Liberty Congress conference in Washington, D.C., in June 1918. He served as editor of the New Negro in 1919, and in 1920 Garvey recruited him as associate editor of the Negro World (a position he held until 1921). Harrison also became UNIA commissioner of education. He spoke on the subject of Liberia at Liberty Hall meetings in early 1920, including an address, "The Call to Africa," on 21 April. In this speech he attacked black American stereotypes of Africa and urged that Americans educate themselves about the realities of the continent. He and other UNIA activists formed the Liberty party in August 1920, and James W. H. Eason became the party's candidate in the November 1920 presidential election. In 1925 Harrison organized the International Colored Unity League and began a new periodical, the Voice of the Negro. Harrison's publications include The Negro and the Nation (1917) and When Africa Awakes: The Inside Story of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World (1920) (Wilfred D. Samuels, "Hubert H. Harrison and the New Negro Manhood Movement," Afro-Americans in New York Life and History 5 [January 1981]: 29–41; J. A. Rogers, World' s Great Men of Color [New York: J. A. Rogers, 1947], 2:611–619; Philip S. Foner, American Socialism and Black Americans [Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1977], p. 217; MGP 1, 2).