The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers

John E. Bruce to C. D. B. King,[1] President of Liberia

My dear Sir and Brother:

This will introduce to you Hubert H Harrison, Esq., a warm and personal friend of mine who is the duly accredited Chairman of a deputation visiting Liberia, and representing the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, and its subsidiary branches—the Black Star S/S Line and Negro Factories Corporations—which has come to Africa at the direction of its President, Marcus Garvey, to confer with its leading public business men and prominent private citizens, for the purpose of strengthening the bonds of amity between the two English speaking branches of the Negro race, for closer business union, stronger and more diversified commercial relations, and a better understanding of the relations which ought /of/ right to exist between /us/, [who,] though widely separated by distance, have a common destiny.
These gentlemen come to Africa in the spirit of friendship and brotherhood, bearing a message of good will and filled with desire to render in so far as they may be permitted through the good offices of the first citizen of the Little Republic in the West and his associates in office, such service for Africa as may be in the power of the great Organization which they represent, for the mutual benefit of both branches of our great Negro /family/.
I heartily commend these gentlemen to your Excellency's most gracious favor. They are gentlemen of culture and refinement, character and ability, and they represent 3.000.000 of our race on this side of the Atlantic, the West Indies, Central and South America, who have sent them to the Mother Country to study the condition of its people and in cooperation with its men of light and leading to open wider the door of opportunity in Africa, commercially, industrially, and intellectually for the sons of Africa throughout the world. I am sure that you are at one with them in their /mission,/ and /I bespeak for them the/ friendly and generous hospital[it]y which Liberians always extend to the stranger within /their/ gates.
I beg to renew to your Excellency the assurance of my most distinguished consideration and to subscribe myself, Fraternally yours,
John E. Bruce Late Sec. Banquet Committee[2]
NN-Sc, JEB, BL 41. TLS, draft copy. On Masonic Quarterly Review letterhead, with handwritten corrections.
[1] Charles Dunbar Burgess King (1875?–1961) was president of Liberia from 1920 until his resignation in 1930. His father was a West Indian who had settled in Sierra Leone and later emigrated to Liberia. King began his formal education at Trinity Parish School and the Church Missionary Society Grammar School in Sierra Leone, and he graduated from Liberia College. In 1897 he was admitted to the bar and in 1900 he became prosecuting attorney for Montserrado County. President Arthur Barclay appointed King attorney general in 1906, and President Daniel Howard later selected him as his secretary of state. In January 1919 the True Whig party nominated him for the Liberian presidency, thus assuring him the presidency in 1920. In May 1919, when he was Liberian delegate to the Paris Peace Conference, he was elected president of Liberia. In Paris the Haitian Eliézer Cadet, UNIA high commissioner in France, called on King to solicit his support for the movement. From France King traveled via the United Kingdom to the U.S. to carry out negotiations for the five-million-dollar loan.
In the U.S. King also met with the trustees of the American Colonization Society and numerous leaders from the black community, including John E. Bruce, who would shortly join the Garvey organization, and F. Wilcom Ellegor, the UNIA high commissioner who had spent many years in Liberia as a missionary. Elie Garcia has claimed that King met with Garvey during his visit to the U.S., but no corroborating evidence has been found. In October 1919 King addressed the Grand Lodge Prince Hall Masons of New York, speaking of future relations between American blacks and Liberians.
King came away from America deeply impressed with the breadth and depth of the emigration sentiment among black Americans. He found that "most of the masses" were "enthusiastic in their desire to return to Africa. Everywhere I went, I met an earnest desire for specific information with reference to this country" (Inaugural Address of Charles Dunbar Burgess King, President of the Republic of Liberia, Delivered January 5, 1920 [Monrovia: College of West Africa Press, 1920]). King believed that immigration to Liberia should be planned carefully because of the difficulty of absorbing large numbers into the body politic. Before Liberia could accept sizable numbers of immigrants, King argued, roads, railroads, and harbors must be built and improved. Black laborers were needed at this stage, but once this infrastructure was created, new possibilities in farming and industry would attract skilled workers as well as cultured, educated, and wealthy blacks. King wanted the Liberian government to establish its own immigration agencies in the U.S. to supervise immigration. The Liberian legislature, however, did not establish an immigration agency until 1926.
After details of the U.S. conditions for the loan reached Liberia in June 1920, the Liberian legislature rejected the provisions on the basis that they interfered too profoundly in Liberian internal affairs; instead, the legislature voted to send a plenary commission to the United States to renegotiate the provisions.
King headed this commission, which also included John L. Morris and the associate chief justice, F. E. R. Johnson, brother of UNIA potentate Gabriel Johnson. In a meeting between President King and Morris and the U.S. Department of State representative Wiley, King and Morris "declared that the time had come to announce publicly and definitely that the Liberian Government disapproved" of the UNIA (despite the Liberian government's sanction in June 1920 of the UNIA plan as put forth by Elie Garcia) (DNA, RG 59, file 811.41065/55). In the June 1921 issue of the Crisis, King reiterated his position on black emigration. He stated, "Our present need is especially for strong young men trained as artisans, engineers and merchants who can bring with them some capital for investment." In a thinly veiled reference to the UNIA, King added that Liberia respected her neighbors and that "under no circumstances will she allow her territory to be made a center of aggression or conspiracy against other sovereign states" (Crisis 22, no. 2 [June 1921]: 53).
The loan terms that the plenary commission negotiated were approved by the Liberian legislature in January 1922, but the U.S. Senate refused to approve the loan on 28 November 1922. The senate rejection was a setback for King's plans to rescue Liberian government finances from bankruptcy and promote economic development. In April 1924 he began negotiations with representatives of the Firestone Company for a private loan, in exchange for official business concessions in Liberia.
In February 1924 King met unofficially with the third UNIA delegation, consisting of Henrietta Vinton Davis, Robert L. Poston, and James Milton Van Lowe. King was reported to have offered them a trial concession of five hundred acres. In July 1924 King deported three UNIA members who had arrived in Liberia to initiate UNIA colonies on the Cavalla River, a scheme that King claimed never to have approved. In defense of his deportations the president declared that
“the apparent intention of that association [UNIA] to use Liberia as its base for the dissemination of its propaganda of racial hatred and ill will, compelled the Executive Government . . . to place a veto upon the proposed operations of the association in Liberia, by deporting from the country certain of its emissaries who had been sent out to start the founding of the first of their proposed colonies. . . . The landing in Liberia of a special commission, sent thereafter by the association, was also prohibited by us.”
He went on to add that
“Liberia's immediate objective is toward a nationalism and not racialism; the making of a nation and not a race. . . . If Negroes, in America or elsewhere, desire to come as settlers in Liberia to assist us in our great work, they will receive a hearty and cordial welcome, provided they come with the right spirit, take the oath of allegiance to the Republic, and sincerely repudiate all former allegiances. Liberia cannot recognize dual citizenship. (King, "Presidential Message," 1925)”
King remained firm in his opposition to the UNIA throughout the remainder of his administration. During an official visit to Sierra Leone in January 1925, at which time he received a hero's welcome by the colonial government, King was praised by Governor Slater of Sierra Leone for his strong stance against the UNIA. The governor noted that King had earned "the gratitude not only of every West African government but of all who have the true welfare of the African at heart" ("Speech of His Excellency the Governor at the Banquet at Government House on January 22nd, 1925, in Honour of Their Excellencies the President of Liberia and Mrs. King," PRO, CO 267/607).
During a 1927 tour of European capitals, King was praised for his opposition to Garvey's ideas. King believed that Liberia's viability as an independent state depended on the influx of American and European capital in the development of its resources. In Hamburg King declared that he was president of Liberia and not of all "negroes. I intend and wish to produce a cultured nation by elevating the population of Liberia to be a cultured, civilized people. For this reason we have rejected all Pan-African endeavors forming in the United States," including that of Marcus Garvey (DNA, RG 59, file 088.8262).
In 1929 international criticism of alleged domestic slavery and forced labor in Liberia caused King to request a League of Nations investigation. Although he was not personally implicated, his vice president, Allen Yancy, was, and at the end of 1930 both resigned. Succeeded by Edwin Barclay, King returned to public life after World War II, first as minister and then as ambassador to the U.S.; he retired in 1951 (NW, 11 October 1919, 27 August 1927; DAHB).
C. D. B. King
[2] Bruce, an active lodge member, was secretary to the committee that sponsored a Masonic banquet for C. D. B. King in New York in 1919. Four hundred Masons from New York and elsewhere attended the banquet, and the hall was decorated with various lodge banners as well as with the American, Liberian, and Haitian flags (NW, 11 October 1919).
Banquet in honor of His Excellency C. D. B. King, secretary of state and president elect of the Republic of Liberia, at Andersons Assembly Rooms, New York City, 22 September 1919