The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers

Editorial in the Gold Coast Leader[1]

The tone of the Washington Post article, reprinted in the February 28 Supplement number of the African World, is distinctly distasteful. It is not consistent with the humble attitude that America should assume in approaching the question of the guardianship of African communities. Even great nations must in time come to realise that money is not everything. For the moment America is supreme in the command of the almighty dollar, but that does not prevent black men from duly appraising her conduct toward them before, during, and since the close of the war. A country in which her black citizens are still lynched and still suffer innumerable atrocities and indignities may be the most "civilised" according to the present day estimate of civilisation; but black men must be forgiven if they suggest that such a civilisation does not appeal to them. We hold no brief for Liberia, but we should say, loan or no loan,[3] it will be an evil day for her if she lends an ear to American protection in any shape or form. If in "civilised" America the black man's life is a thing of sport for the American white, what respect is there of any better regard in dark Africa? We would advise President King to be quite explicit upon this point, that in no case will the United States be permitted to interfere unduly in Liberian local affairs, and, if we were Liberians, we would go a stage further and seek international guarantees.
It is necessary to speak plainly on this occasion. The black man the world over is getting tired of being kicked and tossed about as if he were the sport of the nations, and he is saying plainly that he has had enough of it and will stand the nonsense no longer. How long—indeed how long! Centuries ago his people were led in chains and shackles across trackless forests to the African coast, and thence exiled to American plantations to help build a "civilisation" for white America. The bones of his dead are strewn in many an African forest. In America, in the cotton fields, he was oppressed with an oppression which appealed to Heaven for mercy. Emancipation came, but still the American white could not yet think of letting go his hold upon the soul of the black man. The black man slumbered while he remained enthralled. Occasionally there were signs as if he were waking from his sleep. Now he is fully awake; he stands on his feet, a full grown man, robust in every limb, stout of heart and active in brain; and he is demanding the reason why. He is demanding in the name of Heaven why he should continue to suffer himself to be kicked and tossed about, the sport of the American white. That is plainly the reading of current history, and he is very short-sighted, who does not see this much.
Having said this much, we are free to suggest that America, if she be minded, can do useful service to Africa, and thus help to redeem the past. Her financial aid can help to open up Liberia and her industries, but that would not warrant any parade of bombastic overlordship; for that is the one thing that the black men the world over are going to defeat, at least, in Africa. Meanwhile Liberia must set to work and quickly put her own house in order. Her sons must realise the sacred call to duty and to consecrated national service in this critical hour of racial endeavour. She may safely draw inspiration from the British Colonies to her East and West, and bring herself up to date in her educational system and in her economical development. Liberia must remain an open door to the enterprise of all the nations, and if she shows intelligence and aptitude in political organisation, there is no reason why West Africa should not some day be proud of her. For ourselves we cannot understand Liberian aloofness from her sister West African communities so far. Surely it ought not to be above her to study the systems that are ready to hand in the sister states.
The weak point in the armour of the "Lone Star of Liberia" is in her aboriginal policy. She must endeavour to inspire the confidence and win the support of her teeming hinterland population, and then she will no longer be the "Lone Star of Liberia." But a short time back our brethren in Sierra Leone and in the Gambia were cut adrift from the protectorate element, their real back-bone. To-day they have corrected that mistake, and the colonies and the protectorates are one. That is the object-lesson for Liberia; and we point to it with all deference and confidence, for we believe in the patriotism of President King, and that he is inspired by the same enthusiasm for race uplift as ourselves.
Then black America can help in this work. If our brethren over there are to-day smarting under a keen sense of wrongs inflicted, surely it is their duty to prevent their perpetuation in the land of their forefathers. Let them, therefore, pour their dollars into business concerns which will tend to raise Liberia on her feet. Let them emigrate and give of their best of brain power and enterprise. We should like to see the "Black Star" Line running freely and regularly to Liberia and up and down ports along the coast and pursuing business methods in no way inferior to the best European or American standards. Japan has within the last fifty years or more built her[s]elf up commercially and industrially; and it has been shown that that which the Japanese have done Africans can do. Now is the time to do it and do it well without allowing the dollars of white America to sweep the stakes.
Printed in the Gold Coast Leader (Cape Coast), 15 May 1920.
[1] The Gold Coast Leader, a weekly published in Cape Coast between 1902 and 1934, was the country's leading nationalist and pan-Africanist newspaper in the 1920s. Founded by J. E. Casely Hayford, the most prominent Gold Coast nationalist of the period, along with F. E. Asaam and J. P. H. Brown, it was first edited by the Nigerian doctor R. A. Savage, but Herbert Brown ran the newspaper from 1902 until his death in 1919. It was subsequently managed and edited by Casely Hayford.
The Leader, which served as the organ of the nationalist group centered around the NCBWA, enjoyed considerable popularity and acted as a link with black opinion elsewhere in West Africa and beyond. It was one of the most frequently cited African newspapers in the Negro World. The Leader's attitude toward Garveyism reflected Casely Hayford's constitutionalist pan-African outlook. It gave qualified approval to the UNIA and welcomed Garvey's economic program, but it rejected the UNIA's more controversial political aims and deplored what it considered to be the ignorance of black Americans toward Africa. In an item reproduced in the Negro World of 26 January 1924, the Leader criticized Du Bois's objectives, and, while praising Garvey's ideals, conceded that some of his methods "may be questionable" (TN, 1 March 1920; Gold Coast Leader, 18 December 1920; Rina L. Okonkwo, "The Garvey Movement in British West Africa," JAH 21, no. 1 [1980]: 105–117; K. A. B. Jones-Quartey, A Summary History of the Ghana Press, 1822 – 1960 [Accra: Ghana Information Services Department, 1974]).
[2] Cape Coast, located ninety miles east of Accra, was the center of British administration from 1664 to 1877 and the headquarters for the Wesleyan and Roman Catholic missions. Between the world wars, Cape Coast stood out among Creole communities of the West African coast as a vital center of Fante nationalism and anticolonial sentiment. Its population in 1921 was 14,987, including 66 Europeans (Alan Cawson, "Local Politics and Indirect Rule in Cape Coast, Ghana, 1928–1957" [Ph.D. diss., Oxford University, 1975]; Roger Gocking, "Creole Society and the Revival of Traditional Culture in Cape Coast during the Colonial Period," International Journal of African Historical Studies 17, no. 4 [1984]: 601–622; John Maxwell, ed., The Gold Coast Handbook, 1928 [London: Crown Agents for the Colonies, for the Government of the Gold Coast, 1928], p. 178; HDG).
[3] In September 1918 the U.S. Treasury approved a credit of $5 million to Liberia under the provisions of the Second Liberty Loan Act. Heavily in debt to European and American bankers, the Liberian government undertook to reform its finances as part of the agreement. Early in 1920 President Wilson approved the loan, but the Liberian legislature rejected it because of its harsh conditions. According to the loan proposal, the president of the United States would appoint a general receiver, three assistants, and an auditor to control all Liberian customs collections as well as internal revenue. The general receiver would have the power to approve the Liberian budget and to determine what portion of customs revenue would be granted to the Liberian government for expenses. The proposal also authorized the president to appoint a commissioner general of the interior and three or more military officers to reorganize the Liberian military along the frontier.
Although it rejected the proposal, the Liberian legislature voted to send a commission to the United States to discuss the possibility of another loan arrangement. In March 1921 President C. D. B. King of Liberia traveled to the U.S. to lobby for the loan. U.S. Department of State officials reported, however, that King was believed not to want the loan; he was perceived to be pro-British and thus desirous of reducing American influence in his country. U.S. president Warren Harding supported the proposed loan, urging Congress on 3 August 1921 to approve it on the grounds that the port of Monrovia had significant commercial and military strategic value for the U.S. A revised loan agreement was signed on 28 October 1921; on 28 November 1922, however, it was rejected by the U.S. Senate, owing largely to the opposition of farm-state Republicans and southern Democrats. The funds for Liberia were thus never secured.
According to a confidential report by the U.S. Bureau of Investigation, these official negotiations interfered with the UNIA's ability to raise money for its own "Liberian Construction Loan," since many potential investors believed that the U.S. was on the brink of beginning a multimillion-dollar development project in Liberia (DNA, RG 65, file BS 202600–33–292; Nancy Kaye Kirkham Forderhase, "The Plans That Failed: The United States and Liberia, 1920–1935" [Ph.D. diss., University of Missouri, Columbia, 1971]; MGP 3:619 n. 2).