The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers

Publication of the Commercial Intelligence Bureau

To the Satel[l]ites of Marcus Garvey

It is interesting to note how apparently apprehensive the American Negroes [who] are Satel[l]ites of Marcus Garvey are over the STILL MYSTERIOUS U.N.I.A. We wonder if their Motto is "Speech is Silver but Silence is golden["]?
If you should become a "would-be-member[,]" ask no questions, seek no explanations. Since however, the Garveyites seem determined to CHOKE the Liberians, a people whose steady and sober habits, for over half a century, for self control, with brilliant imaginations of Universal Negro Development.
May we ask what part of the development program does the singing of South American Camp Meeting songs form in Liberia? May we also be informed under what Nationality are the Ships of the Black Star Line being registered?
We would like to know from the Officials of Government if [a]t this moment when the relationship of Liberia with other Foreign Powers have become more lasting and enduring, Can Liberia in the face of her compact which must be kept, Can she encourage or promote any movement calculated to embitter feelings between the White and Negro Races?[1]
We should like to know if the Liberians are to be improved by the class of Negroes from the States that we are in contact with on our shores?
Indeed, can we say that Improvement is still Improvement? When surro[u]nded by so little sign of respect? What offends us is not the proximity of the Garveyites, it is the thousand undefinable things which necessarily accompany the Compact.
Painful as the conditions are, the Liberians[,] accustomed to live in an atmosphere of deference and dignity, could not tolerate or countenance any improvement from outside sources.
May we also be informed under what Nationality are the Ships of the Black Star Line being Registered? And would it not be wiser to have them registered in Liberia and have them sail under the Liberian Flag which would seem to be a more tang[i]ble proof of Negro Development?[2]
Into what Banks are the funds of the Negro Improvement Association deposited?[3]
May we ask, when Shares are bought, to what Branch of the various Companies as sub-Incorporated in the Improvement Association [do] the funds thus paid become a charge on?
Away with this Mysterious Association.
DNA, RG 59, 882.00.666. TD, recipient's copy. On bureau letterhead.[5]
[1] As a member of the League of Nations, Liberia was obliged to agree to international cooperation and development.
[2] In 1920 few ships were registered under the Liberian flag; after World War II, however, the Liberian flag became the flag of convenience for a large number of foreign vessels (Rodney Carlisle, "Authorship of the Liberian Maritime Code, 1948–1949" [paper presented at annual meeting of Liberian Studies Association, Boston, 8–10 April 1978]).
[3] UNIA, BSL, and Negro Factories Corporation accounts were maintained at the Corn Ex- change Bank, 125th Street and Lenox Avenue, New York, in 1919 and the early 1920s (MGP 7:984).
[4] Abraham H. Butler, Sr., a Liberian journalist who had received training at the American Detective Training School in New York, edited the Commercial Bulletin, the weekly publication of the Commercial Intelligence Bureau, Monrovia. In its pages in 1920, he was often critical of the UNIA, of the pending five-million-dollar U.S. loan to the Liberian government, and of the African-American presence in Liberia.
Elie Garcia, the UNIA commissioner to Liberia, who arrived in Monrovia on 27 May 1920, noted Butler's 28 May assault on the UNIA and mentioned it at a UNIA meeting in Monrovia on the same day. Despite Butler's hostile editorial, Garcia arranged to meet him, for Garvey had given Garcia a letter of introduction for Butler. According to Garcia, Butler attempted to interview him, though Garcia refused to make a statement. Garcia was told that Butler's paper was "subsidized by firms and that soon after they learned of my coming, they started the propaganda against us, which was for a while disastrous for the selling of shares of the Black Star Line" (MGP 2:662–663).
Butler's opposition to the U.S. loan was influenced by an article in the Crisis which described the political consequences of a U.S. loan with regard to the independence of the black republic of Haiti. Butler urged the rejection of the loan, especially because of the extensive political authority that was to be granted to the U.S. general receivership. In Butler's words, this U.S. official would become an "ever lasting Lord of our Country, interfering into our political aspiration and with Powers of a veto over the Laws of the Land" (Commercial Bulletin, 28 May 1920).
The U.S. chargé d'affaires had been informed that Butler was "egged on by members of the present administration, including President King," and that he was "in the pay of British interests in Liberia" (U.S. chargé d'affaires, Monrovia, to U.S. secretary of state, 14 July 1920, DNA, RG 59, file 882.000/667). He subsequently proposed to nullify the effects of Butler's propaganda through the medium of more conservative Liberian publications. Some unidentified members of the Liberian cabinet were known to have reviewed articles before they appeared in the Commercial Bulletin, and Louis L. Grimes, attorney general of Liberia, acted as legal counsel to the Commercial Intelligence Bureau. President C. D. B. King first met with Butler on 26 August 1920 in a cabinet meeting.
The British interests that backed Butler's propaganda efforts appear to have been associated with Leo Weinthal, editor of the London-based weekly African World and a leading figure in the Anglo-Liberian Syndicate, a Lever Brothers firm. Indeed, an African World article of 25 February 1922 described the Commercial Bulletin as "our Liberian newspaper," and Butler's attack on the U.S. loan received open support in the African World. The British legation in Monrovia in 1922 believed that the African World coverage of Liberia was inspired by Butler. Through Weinthal's efforts the Anglo-Liberian Syndicate had acquired the extensive land, commercial, financial, and railway concession rights that had been granted in 1910 under the title of the Liberian American Produce Company to some Liberian and American investors, including Booker T. Washington. J. J. Dossen and Arthur Barclay, who were Liberian supporters of the UNIA and its program as well as stockholders in the Liberian American Produce Company, were displeased with the manner in which the transfer to the Anglo-Liberian Syndicate occurred.
In what was perhaps Butler's most significant action against the UNIA, on 25 January 1922 he presented King and his cabinet with a dossier that contained the content of Elie Garcia's "secret" report of August 1920 to Marcus Garvey. Among other things, the report advocated that the UNIA downplay its political objectives in Liberia and emphasize commercial, industrial, and agricultural developments. After a strong foothold was established in the country, Garcia suggested that the UNIA would not be prevented from acting "as we see best for their [the Liberians'] own betterment and that of the race at large" (MGP 2:667). According to Secretary of State Edwin Barclay, "Garcia's secret and confidential report . . . gave a clear picture of the revolutionary purposes of the UNIA in Liberia, and determined the Government's irrevocable attitude of opposition" (African World, August–September 1924). How Butler managed to secure a copy of this document is open to speculation. The public revelation of Garcia's recommendation did much to damage the credibility of the UNIA among Liberians.
On 21 January 1922, the Monrovia correspondent for the African World commented:
“After the revelations made by the Commercial Intelligence Bureau of the work of the special commissioner working on behalf of Marcus Garvey in Liberia and of the proof of the real motives behind his labours on the "Provisional President's" behalf, the movement is now without support here and its prospects hopeless. On the surface fine and altruistic, it has been proved that the aims are not really the sincere advancement of the Negro, but apparently one of graft for the leaders, who profit at the expense of the easily gulled. It is hoped that the report of the American detective making the discoveries, rumours of which have thrown Monrovia into considerable unrest these least few days, will be published in full. (African World, 25 February 1922)”
In May 1922 the Liberian government commissioned Butler to organize a detective force. In February 1924 Butler released a press dispatch to the "Associated News-Papers of the World" which publicized President King's refusal to meet with a UNIA delegation to Liberia (DNA, RG 59, files 882.51/1257, 882.602/7, and 882.00/673 1/2; British Legation, Monrovia, to His Majesty's principal secretary of state for foreign affairs, 16 October 1922, PRO, FO 115/2754; Commercial Bulletin, ca. 25 May, 3 and 13 July, and 4 September 1920; African World, Special West African Monthly Supplement, 30 September 1920, regular edition, 4 March 1922; NW, 23 October 1920; Crisis 24, no. 6 [April 1924]: 51; Liberian Department of Justice, Reports and Opinions of the Attorney General of the Republic of Liberia [New York: Central Book Co., 1947], 1:11–12).
[5] The U.S. chargé d'affaires in Monrovia forwarded this document to the U.S. secretary of state, writing that
“practically every comment made in his bulletin about the United States or Americans is hostile. . . . Butler . . . is a man of very little education but he talks loud and much. The opinions he expresses are supposed to represent what the ordinary and less than ordinary citizens in Monrovia are thinking. As a matter of fact he voices ready made opinions transmitted to him by persons who are simply using him as a tool to serve their own ends. (Chargé d'affaires ad interim to the secretary of state, Washington, D.C., 14 July 1920, DNA, RG 59, file 882.00/667)”