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Back to Africa

June 1920 — Universal Negro Improvement Association, Liberty Hall, New York City


I am sure you know I am very happy to be here tonight, for whenever Africa is discussed it is my great fortune and pleasure to be present. And yet I never felt happier in all my life than I do tonight, for it is one of my great ambitions, especially since returning from Africa, to meet a group of people who have an idealism similar to my own, and that is — Back to Africa. And somehow, in my travels throughout the United States I feared the people had lost the vision of their opportunity of going ack to Africa and possessing the land. Is it time? Is the time ripe? Yes, it is time. It is quite time. This is the noon hour of our opportunity. First of all, because Africa never was in a more susceptible, receptive mood for the UNIA than today. Before the world-wide war practically every door was closed to the Negroes of America. But God has mysteriously moved on the heart of the world, and everywhere there is unrest; and because of conditions brought about through the Belgians and Germans and other nations who had a strong and powerful grip on Africa. Today that grip has been gradually loosened, and everywhere the African wants to know why we in America do not come home.


I have never had very much use for the man or woman who said they have lost nothing in Africa. It has been a great pleasure for me to tell them they found nothing here. If lynching and burning and disfranchisement, and Jim Crow law has given you a disposition to remain here, then remain. But there is a land that flows with milk and honey. There is a land that would receive you gladly — a land that you have turned your back on, a land to which men have gone over and come back bringing the joyful tidings that we are fully able to go up and possess the land. Let us go forward in His name and take it.

Now if there are men of vision and men of brains and men of character rand men who will gladly die for this cause, then I want you to know that there are women also who will join you and will gladly die with you that Africa might be redeemed. I want you men to remember that while you are the stronger part of the great whole that the larger numbers in this great group are the women, and the African womanhood is the one object of pity that stands out preeminently in all these deplorable conditions. The missionaries, for instance, have been gathering the boys and the men for many years among them, and this womanhood that has been crushed has been the object of the unscrupulous practices of the white man. They look today to the American Negro and to the men and women of this particular organization for redemption.

I was speaking to a friend of mine who has recently returned from her first trip abroad, and she told me that in Sierra Leone every other man was changing his name to Marcus Garvey. She told me that two weeks ago in the city of New York, And if the men of Africa have been so enthused and have caught the spirit of this man whom they have never seen, what about the men and women who are privileged with contact with this man of vision?  “Where there is no vision the people perish,” and “who knows but what we are come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”


Talk about the resources of Africa, I want to tell you just this one thing: There is enough mahogany burned in Liberia alone to furnish every family in the United States with three pieces of furniture. They do not need chimneys. All they need is just a little fire to cook, and they burn mahogany to cook with. Now then, if you want to grind out your life over the washtub, if you wish to spend the rest of your days upon the cooking table, if you are satisfied with these conditions, why, you can do nothing better than to remain here. But those of you who believe, who know that what I have said is the truth — Africa wants you. How I should have liked to be in Monrovia when the delegation arrived there, and seen the welcome which they received. The Africans waited long and patiently for the delegation that would come from the descendants of the men and women who were slaves, and they have often said to us: “Why have you stayed so long? What has civilization and freedom meant to you if not to come back and give your life . . . [you have moved] mountains, bridged the rivers, thrown up skyscrapers for America, and yet you cannot go into a first-class hotel because you are black. You cannot ride in the Pullmans if you are tired, but must sit up or do the next best thing. Why not come back to Africa and make this a great country for ourselves, our children and our children’s children?”

This friend of mine told me that the young men of Sierra Leone are giving up first-class jobs and waiting for the Black Star Line to touch the shores. This friend is a woman of integrity, and I believe every words she has said, and she says that the day a ship comes into the harbor of Sierra Leone there would not be an English army large enough to keep back the Sierra Leonians, for they are determined that having gone to the trenches of Europe to die for the white man, if needs be they will die that Africa might be redeemed.

You think it is a wonderful thing to be in Harlem, but you have never enjoyed your manhood until you have walked in Liberia and have come in contact with the black President of that country and received invitations to come to the banquet that is prepared in the State House. You surely cannot go to Washington to one. And so, after all, I would rather be in Liberia tonight, all things being equal, without her trolley cars, without her subways , without her elevated system, and to feel and know that I am a woman for all of that. Black skin or short hair, money or no money, you are a man and have the opportunity of being the greatest person in that republic; for the only requirement of Liberia is that you are black. Let us therefore join hands and back up the man who is leading us out of this wilderness into the Promised Land.



Source: Negro World, June 26, 1920.


Also: Burkett, Randall K., Black Redemption: Churchmen Speak for the Garvey Movement (Philadelphia: Temple University Press) 1978, pp. 47-49.