The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers

James George Campbell,[1] Patriarch, West African Episcopal Church, to the Times of Nigeria

The British West African Conference now known as The National Congress of Africans of British West Africa, and the Universal Convention of Negroes to meet at New York City, in August of this year.
Sir,—Now that the world is under a Reconstruction programme after the armageddon that has befallen it for nearly five years and every weak nation or race is endeavouring to awake to the consciousness of her own strength, I think you will be helping the cause of the races if you kindly give publication to this my letter. In March of this year some people approached me on the subject of the Marcus Garvey movement in America, and for forming a Committee of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League in Lagos. I told a gentleman with whom I spoke on the subject that it would not be wise for us at present to form any such Committee in Lagos until after the sitting of the British West African Conference, as I desired to put the matter before them and get their opinion, for whilst I fully endorsed the Commercial Scheme of the Association in America yet I do not think it will be right for any loyal British subject to take part in the political programme and aspirations of our American brethren, as conditions in both hemispheres differ altogether from each other. I brought the matter before the meeting of the Conference at Accra in March 1920. The Conference was of the opinion that whilst we should give our fullest patronage to the Black Star Line, it being a Negro undertaking and its object being solely for the purpose of facilitating and giving us more and brighter prospects as Africans in our commercial transactions[,] yet we should in no way take any part as loyal subjects of British West Africa in the political aspirations as enunciated in the programme by our Negro brethren in America and beyond the seas outside of the British Empire. I hereby give this full publicity as a guide to all loyal subjects of British Nigeria and it is in contemplation by the Conference that at any time this year or early next year a deputation goes to London. The subject of the Marcus Garvey Movement so far as it relates to shipping facilities will be further dealt with. The following resolution was passed by the Conference as No[.] 5 of that particular subject.
"That in view of difficulties hitherto experienced in the matter of space in British Bottoms by legitimate African traders and shippers this conference welcome competition in the shipping line with particular reference to the Black Star Line."
Thanking you, Mr. Editor, for space allowed and I also beg to inform your readers that a Gist of the proceedings of the conference &c. will be out in June D.V.[3] for sale.[4] Yours faithfully,
J. G. Campbell[5]
Printed in TN (Lagos), 24 May 1920.
[1] James George Campbell (1876–1945), opponent of Garveyism in Africa, was the founder of the West African Episcopal Church (WAEC), an independent African church in Nigeria and the Gold Coast. He was also a journalist and important figure in almost all the major protest movements in Lagos politics between 1912 and 1925. Born in Lagos in May 1876, he was a Saro whose parents had migrated to Lagos from Sierra Leone. His paternal grandfather was from Ilesha in western Nigeria. Campbell attended primary school at Wesleyan Tinubu School and St. Paul's Breadfruit in Lagos. When his parents moved to southeastern Nigeria, he became a pupil at the Church Missionary Society (CMS) High School at Bonny, later leaving to study privately. He sat for the College of Preceptors examination as an external candidate. He turned down the opportunity to attend Fourah Bay College in Freetown, Sierra Leone, because he did not want to be associated with the CMS.
At fifteen Campbell dedicated his life to religion. He narrowly escaped death when destroying shrines of traditional believers in the town of Opobo in southeastern Nigeria. In 1899 he was ordained a minister in the United Native African Church (UNAC), an independent African church that allowed polygamy. In 1903 he founded the WAEC, which also condoned polygamy. The WAEC, unlike the UNAC, was particularly directed to evangelizing the lower classes.
Campbell was organizing secretary of the Lagos branch of the NCBWA and a delegate from Nigeria to its inaugural meeting. Like other NCBWA supporters, he adhered to constitutional change, maintaining loyalty to the colonial government, championing the cause of the educated African as spokesman for traditional Africans, and seeking greater government utilization of African professionals. He was one of the few who openly opposed Governor Lugard's policies in Nigeria.
Campbell opposed the Lagos branch of the UNIA and stirred a heated debate in the local press about the Garvey movement. With his own preference for Great Britain, Campbell felt little sympathy with American blacks. "Marcus Garvey represents the Negro under American civilization with all its brag and big talks," he reported, while Thomas Hutton-Mills, a leader of the NCBWA, "represent[s] the Negro under British civilization with its cool headedness and studied diplomacy" (see document printed in the Addendum, MGP 10, at 8 November 1920). Campbell, fearing that Garvey's rhetoric would stir racial hatred, also judged that Garvey, "as a superior Negro to us who has come all the way from America to civilize and save us," looked down on the African (see document printed in the Addendum, MGP 10, at 22 November 1920). Campbell dismissed Garvey's call for a republic of Africa and stated that Garvey was ignorant of the conditions of life and existing leadership in Africa. He advised Garvey to discover his own tribe in Africa and become president of that. He later commented, "Although I am against Marcus Garvey in his political programme, yet I am for his Industrial scheme" (TN, 7 February 1921). Campbell continued to work for the Lagos branch of the NCBWA, though with dwindling support owing to competition from the Lagos UNIA branch, which for a time in late 1920 attracted crowds of more than four hundred (TN, 8 November 1920; J. G. Campbell, preface to The Origin, the Thirty-Six Articles of Faith and the Constitution and Other Regulations of the West African Episcopal Church [1942; reprint, Lagos: Forward Press, 1975]; Rina L. Okonkwo, Heroes of West African Nationalism [Enugu, Nigeria: Delta Publishers, 1985]).
[2] St. Stephen's Church was the headquarters of the West African Episcopal Church. Campbell bought the land for the church in 1908 for twenty-five pounds sterling. The church is located in the Ebute Ero section of Lagos. This is one of the oldest sections of the island and is inhabited by many traditional believers. The fact that the church was located in this poorer section of the city meant that its members were primarily servants, wage earners, and clerks. Campbell opened an evening school for adults in order to attract parishioners, since so many in the congregation were illiterate (James Bertrin Webster, "Attitudes and Policies of the Yoruba Churches towards Polygamy," in Christianity in Tropical Africa, ed. C. G. Baeta [London: Oxford University Press, 1968], p. 229; idem, The African Churches among the Yoruba, 1882 – 1922 [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964]).
[3] D.V. is the abbreviation of Deo volente, Latin for "God willing."
[4] J. G. Campbell, The First Conference of Africans of British West Africa (Lagos, 1920).
[5] Under the heading "Nigerian Notes and News," London's West Africa noted the appearance of this letter with the following commentary:
“A message was sent from Patriarch Campbell, of Lagos, on behalf of the West African Congress, stating that while that body welcomed the institution of the Black Star line of steamships the Congress could not endorse the African political aims of the "Universal Negro Convention" of New York. So much propaganda has been going on lately in connection with this movement that this emphatic pronouncement will be welcomed by all interested in seeing West Africans girding themselves to look after the welfare of their own land and the well-being of their fellow citizens of the Empire. (West Africa, 9 October 1920)”