With the migration north, there was a slow but steady growth of political influence. Blacks became freer to speak and act in their now northern setting, and they gained political leverage by concentrating in large cities. Black voters became increasingly important to the predominantly White urban political machines opening up opportunities for Black politicians. Republicans and Democrats courted their support. By manoeuvring among White factions, Black political leaders were able to win influence, patronage (gain important positions) and some social gains. This political power enabled them to elect representatives to State legislatures and Congress, and to put pressure on political parties in closely contested elections. This power stimulated self-confidence.
World War One had inspired hope amongst many Blacks. The 1920s produced despair as Black people, in particular returning soldiers, found that racism was still part of their daily lives. Heightened racial pride characterised what was often called ‘the New Negro’. Blacks were determined to resist White attacks. Black newspapers and leaders urged northern Blacks to arm and defend themselves.
Growing signs of Black impatience and white injustice were apparent. The war and migration catalysed these feelings. Black migrants to the north found themselves facing problems they thought they had left behind: inadequate housing, discrimination in employment and racial violence. Many concluded that if Blacks were to improve their lot they would have to fight on their own behalf.
W E B de Bois founded the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) in 1910. This organisation was to fight a long battle against disenfranchisement and sought to reduce racial segregation and white supremacy. It took seriously the idea that the solution to problems began in the education of the people. Its main aim was legal action. The NAACP had 91,000 members in 1919 but declined. The NAACP tended to concentrate on opposing segregation through lawsuits, public inquiries and other moderate tactics. It failed to win the allegiance of poor Blacks in the north or south.
In 1919 it launched a campaign against lynching. An anti-lynching bill, making lynching a federal offence, passed the House of Representatives in 1922, was defeated by a group of Southern Senators. Despite defeat, the agitation did bring about a reduction in lynching offences.
Also from 1919 onwards, W E B de Bois organised a series of Pan-African conferences in an attempt to create an international Black movement. However, despite all the vigour and occasional success, the NAACP was dominated by Whites and well-off Blacks and failed to inspire the Black urban masses.
G Marcus Garvey made Black Americans feel proud and militant in the face of racial discrimination. His beliefs remain an inspiration to many people.
Smith, 1996, 24 arvey, a West Indian, founded the Universal Negro Movement Association in 1914, and this organisation was to attract major public attention in the 1920s. With many Black war veterans at the core, the movement soon spread from New York to many other cities.
Garvey had nothing but contempt for Whites and organisations like the NAACP that aimed to bring Blacks and Whites together. He preached that Whites were devils whose racial bias was so deeply ingrained that it was futile to appeal to their sense of justice. Garvey’s appeal was his assertion of pride in being Black. He publicised Black achievements, opposed inter-racial marriages, and, in a reversal of the norm, looked down on light-skinned Blacks. Garvey argued that Blacks throughout the world were one people. He linked the struggle for Black rights in America to the freeing of Africa from colonial rule. Garvey encouraged skilled Americans to go to their ‘African homeland’. His slogan became ‘Back to Africa’, as he claimed that only hope was to flee America and build a new Black Republic in Africa. This was a somewhat naïve message, however it did help create a ‘New Negro’ who was proud of his colour, race and heritage, and was prepared to resist both White mistreatment and White ideas. The message of ‘Black is beautiful’ built racial pride amongst the masses of poor and unskilled city Blacks. No one had ever spoken like Garvey before. It was an intoxicating vision, of bringing all the scattered children of Africa into one mighty force.
Indeed, the city ghetto dwellers were to hail Garvey as a saviour, and christen him ‘Black Moses’. The UNIA grew with remarkable speed. Membership was strong from the new Black middle class but attracted followers from virtually every segment of Black America. The movement had swollen to 6 million members by 1923. But many Black leaders, including the NAACP and Socialist were highly critical of Garvey.
The initial focus of the movement was to inspire Black people to see their self-worth, to express themselves through a variety of commercial enterprises, self-help organisations, religious institutions and publications. The UNIA encouraged Blacks to begin in commercial business ventures. He believed that developing separate Black institutions would make most progress. He was critical of the NAACP push for racial integration. The most hopeful venture of all was the creation of the ‘Black Star Line’, a deeply flawed experiment in developing a Pan-African shipping line.
However, despite tremendous achievements in building Black morale there was no strategic plan for the future. Furthermore, Garvey at the height of his popularity in 1923 was convicted of mail fraud. He was imprisoned in 1925, and pardoned and deported 2 years later. He died in obscurity in 1940.
The Black Pride movement and Garvey’s ventures collapsed with the onset of the Great Depression. However, the memory of his movement lives on in many forms and places. An element of racial pride was kept alive and resurfaces again years later in the Black Power movement.