Foundations of Multicultural Education: Marcus Garvey and the United Negro Improvement Association

By Chapman, Thandeka K. | The Journal of Negro Education, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Foundations of Multicultural Education: Marcus Garvey and the United Negro Improvement Association


Chapman, Thandeka K., The Journal of Negro Education


This article highlights the contributions that Garveyism made to current doctrines of multicultural education. The 1920s movement played a crucial role in African American history and helped to lay the foundation for later African American political and educational movements. Using literature from multiple scholars of multicultural education and primary source documents from the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), theoretical connections are drawn between the paradigm of multicultural education and Garveyism's concerns for the proper education of people of African descent.

INTRODUCTION

In his historical overview of multicultural education, James Banks (1995) presents a clear, linear progression of this movement. His outline focuses on the educational research and academic scholarship that influenced the evolution of the multicultural education paradigm. Although Banks's overview highlights certain foundational writings of multicultural education, he omits the movement's political overtones by relying solely on the products of academia. Realizing the article's limitations, Banks advocates for researching all events and movements leading to multicultural education. He states,

The historical development of multicultural education needs to be more fully described. Careful historical descriptions and analysis will help the field to identify its links to the past, gain deeper insights into the problems and promises of multicultural education today, and plan more effectively for the future. (p. 18)

To strengthen the historical foundation that supports and legitimates theory and research it is important to consider the various political, often fragmented events and alliances that influence the ideological framework of multicultural education.

One historical event that has contributed to the foundation of multicultural education is the Garveyism Movement in the 1920s. During the early 1920s various political groups such as communists, socialists, and "race men" shared soapboxes at neighborhood rallies, podiums at formal conventions, and publication space in their journals. These groups were all seeking to "uplift the race" by changing poor working and housing conditions in African American communities and advocating for better education and greater social mobility. Garveyism, with its focus on the political, economic, and cultural needs of people of African descent, is one of the more successful political moments born from the fecund period of the Harlem Renaissance.

Created in 1914, by Marcus Garvey, the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) still boasts the largest membership of any African American political organization. During its peak years of 1920-1924, the UNIA recorded over one million dues paying members of African descent and two to three times that many people participating in various activities. This membership included over 800 chapters, in 40 countries, on four continents (Vincent, 1977). In the United States, 38 states hosted chapters of the UNIA (Martin, 1976). Although the UNIA did promote and sponsor the move to relocate people of African descent "Back to Africa."

The UNIA was primarily focused upon the economic independence of African people. This focus included the creation of cooperative grocery stores, restaurants, laundries, garment factories, dress shops, a greeting card company, millinery, a phonograph record company, and a publishing house (Vincent, 1977, p. 103).

The principal publication of the UNIA publishing house was The Negro World newspaper. Writings in The Negro World emphasized cultural pride, an independent Africa with political power for people of African descent, international solidarity among people of color, and an educated citizenry. This emphasis reflected the UNIA's dedication to creating successful, economically independent communities for people of African descent.

The UNIA's unswerving interest in the betterment of people of African descent, as promised through all aspects of a democratic society, parallels multicultural education's focus on educational struggles over gaining access and equity for underserved children of color and children living in poverty. …

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