The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers

"A New Negro"[1] to the Sierra Leone Weekly News

The Universal Negro Improvement Association—What It Stands For


I shall feel much obliged if you will grant me a little space in your valuable journal for the purpose of acquainting the general public with the aims and objects of the above Association and with a view to correcting certain erroneous ideas which seem to be afloat as to its modus operandi.
It has been stated in one of our local papers that there is nothing in the programme of this Association which should be of any interest to the people of this Colony and a local wise-head has actually sounded a note of warning against the people having anything to do with it. I also read in a recent issue of the Sierra Leone Echo[2] an advice from its Editor that in regard to the "politics" of this movement the people should "hands off."
From the foregoing it must be clear that either the U.N.I.A. is a really bad thing or its detractors are suffering from an unpardonable ignorance, assuming of course, that these people are honest and have no interest to serve by running the Association down.
Now, what does the Universal Negro Improvement Association [stand] for? It stands for all the things which go to make nations great—the things which we so hopelessly lack; namely—Race unity, Organisation, Self-help[,] Race manhood, etc. It endeavours to draw together the scattered elements of the Negro race the world over and to unify their sentiments and aspirations. It teaches the Negro that not by whining or begging can he gain the respect of the other races but by organising his resources and qualifying himself in the field of Industry, Commerce, Education, etc. That there is no royal road to greatness and that the good things of life are given to those men or nations only who are self-reliant and full of faith in themselves. It says to us, "Cease to be fools, you have begged for positions and power and freedom long enough; now, be men and dare to achieve these things by the force of your industry, your wealth and your brain." The U.N.I.A. encourages the aspirations of Negro people towards political freedom but is convinced that this can only be acquired and maintained where there is an economic foundation; hence the Black Star Line Steamship Corporation and the Negro Factories Corporation.
These are the things which the U.N.I.A. stand[s] for and I believe that they appeal to most people in this country as in other parts of the world.—Yours, etc.,
A New Negro
Printed in SLWN, 7 August 1920.
[1] The term New Negro was a generational demarcation used to specify an emerging class of African Americans who were relatively independent from white patronage, and much more likely to criticize both the white ruling class and the U.S. government. The movement took both literary and political forms. Its mecca was Harlem, and one of its manifestations was an explosion of black literature and journalism. This radicalism was tied to the experience of World War I, during which blacks were enlisted to fight for a "democracy" to which they had little access. By many accounts, black soldiers were treated better while stationed in Europe than they were in the U.S., all while supposedly fighting for self-determination. These circumstances led to a transformation "from the patient, unquestioning, devoted semi-slave to the self-conscious, aspiring proud young man" (William Pickens, The New Negro: His Political, Civil, and Mental Status, and Related Essays [1916; reprint, New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969], p. 236). Many, including Garvey, highlighted the hypocrisy of the fact that black interests were not represented in the postwar settlement, though so many blacks had served. In April 1921 Garvey addressed a crowd in Colon, Panama, with these words: "There are two kinds of Negro, the Old and the New Negroes. The old were buried in 1914." In 1925, Alain Locke entitled his seminal anthology of Harlem Renaissance writing The New Negro (DNA, RG 165, file 10218–418–19; Robert A. Hill, introduction to Cyril Briggs, The Crusader Magazine, comp. Robert A. Hill [facsimile reprint, New York: Garland, 1987], pp. v–lxxiii).
[2] The Sierra Leone Echo and Law Chronicle was a monthly newspaper published in Freetown in the 1920s. Ernest Samuel Beoku-Betts, its editor, was a prominent attorney who trained in England and returned home to practice law after being called to the bar in 1917. The address of the editor was on Upper East Street in Freetown. Beoku-Betts became a high court judge in Freetown in 1945. No copy of this newspaper has been found (T. N. Goddard, The Handbook of Sierra Leone [London: Grant Richards, 1925], p. 237; EA).