AfriGeneas Schools, Organizations, Churches and Institutions Forum
The UNIA of Montreal
THE UNIVERSAL NEGRO IMPROVEMENT ASSOCIATION OF MONTREAL, 1917--1979
On August 1, 1914, a young Jamaican named Marcus Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association in Kingston, Jamaica. Previous to that date, Garvey had travelled extensively in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Europe, and was appalled by the misery and suffering which people of African descent had been experiencing regardless of the country he visited. He had also spoken to people who had lived and travelled in other contries. They reported that conditions in those areas were no better than those which Garvey had seen for himself. The latter hoped to improve the lot of black people through this association.
Between 1916 and 1924 this organization grew rapidly. The U.S.A., which Garvey entered for the first time on March 23, 1916, became the centre. He travelled extensively in that country, visiting 38 of the 48 states, and he saw that there was need for his organization. He also came to Montreal, sometime in 1917, and he was warmly received by the Blacks of this city.
Partly as a result of his visit, but largely due to the initiative taken by leaders of another black organization which had already been established in Montreal, a division of the UNIA was founded in this city. The official birthdate is given as June 9, 1919, although there was, for all practical purposes, a well developed form of Garveyism existing here at least two years previous to that date.
The Montreal Division developed rapidly. During its early years its following increased geometrically, reaching its peak in 1921. This coincided with the glory years of the organization as a whole when it was free from all the difficulties which, later on, beset it and helped to reduce its size and influence to its present weakness.
During its heyday and for many years afterwards, the Montreal UNIA wielded great influence among people of African descent in this city. Through its many units, meetings, social, educational, and recreational activities, it afforded many opportunities to Black Montrealers to fill the wide voids which existed in their lives. Above all, it made them feel that they were worthy descendants of a great heritage so that their self esteem increased at the expense of an inferiority complex.
This division was also active at the international level of the organization. It participated in the important conventions, starting with the first in 1920. This role is continued to the present day. With its Toronto counterpart, it provided the means whereby Garvey, after his deportation from the U.S., was able to keep in physical contact with his large following in that country. It helped to sustain Amy Jacques Garvey and her children during that period of great sorrow and even greater economic hardship following the death of the organization's founder and husband of that famous lady. Finally, the Montreal Division played a significant role in saving the UNIA from destruction which seemed inevitable as a result of the policies and practices of James R. Stewart, the man elected to succeed Garvey.
The Montreal Division of the UNIA, therefore, was established early in the history of the organization, contributed a great deal to its development and, at the same time, it played important roles in the lives of Black Montrealers. This thesis, as aspect of the social history of this city as well as a study of the UNIA from the perspective of one of its divisions, is an attempt to bring the work and significance of these Montreal Graveyites to the attention of scholars and others interested in this aspect of the social sciences.
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