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Women In The Universal Negro Improvement Association

1419 words - 6 pages

The Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) was founded by Marcus Garvey in 1914 and achieved great success in improving the socio-economic status of blacks in both the USA and his native country, Jamaica, in the 1920s. Although it experienced a gradual decline in support in the 1930’s, Garvey was arguably the most prominent black nationalist figure to emerge in the twentieth century. However, despite its influence, it is clear that the organisation often neglected to give a voice to the numerous black women in its ranks, many of whom were heavily involved in the UNIA from its beginnings. Scholars like Tony Martin have drawn attention to important leading figures within the UNIA who were females, such as Amy Jacques Garvey, Henrietta Vinton Davis, M. De Mena and Amy Ashwood Garvey in emphasising the role of women within the organisation. Nevertheless, these women activists were somewhat atypical from the average female UNIA member; although they fought for gender equality, most did not have the opportunity to occupy such high positions or receive acknowledgement for their contributions. This essay will endeavour to construct a detailed analysis demonstrating that while their numbers were substantial, it is clear that the roles and responsibilities of women within the Universal Negro Improvement Association were largely subordinate to those of men.
The vast amount of scholarly works that have been published on Marcus Garvey and the UNIA have tended not to focus strongly on the work of females within the organisation, instead focussing on the extent of Garvey’s success and the influence of the UNIA both in an American context and internationally. E. David Cronon, for example, questions the significance of Garvey himself, while Theodore Draper critiques the nationalistic aspect of Garveyism commenting that “it had little or nothing to do with their immediate lives, with their own time and place”. More recently, however, revisionists have begun to address the subject of female Garveyites more closely, but, in doing so, have been inclined to exaggerate the role of women within the organisation. Tony Martin, in his article, Race First, accentuates the role of a few prominent women within the UNIA, who were not in fact representative of the positions of the majority of female members. Although it is important to draw attention to their achievements, a more developed and truthful analysis would have, alongside this, acknowledged the restrictions of their roles within the organisation. Since its publication, other historians have also looked closely into the role of women in the UNIA, such as Ula Taylor’s biography of Amy Jacques Garvey. Nonetheless, these still continued to be inhibited by their sole emphasis on those female figures in high positions. More recently, though, Richard Newman’s Black Power and Black Religion: Essays and Reviews has brought attention to Laura Kofey’s achievements, as well as less prominent women within the...

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