This post originally appeared on the UNIA website in December of 1998.
The RED, BLACK and GREEN Flag was unveiled to the world by the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey and the members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, of the World at it’s first international convention on August 13, 1920. The UNIA-ACL knew that Africans at home and abroad needed their own flag as other flags around the world could not represent the collective of African people.
The use of Red, Black and Green as colors symbolizing African nationhood was first adopted by the UNIA-ACL as part of the 1920 Declaration of Rights as the official colors of the African race. The question of a flag for the race was not as trivial as might have appeared on the surface, for in the United States especially, the lack of an African symbol of nationhood seems to have been cause for crude derision on the part of whites and a source of sensitivity on the part of Afro-Americans. White derision over the lack of a flag was summed up in a popular American song, “Every Race Has a Flag But the ‘Coon.’” A 1912 report appearing in the Africa Times and Orient Review (for which Marcus Garvey worked) documented the far-reaching consequences of this song. In 1921 he declared,
Show me the race or the nation without a flag, and I will show you a race of people without any pride. Aye! In song and mimicry they have said, “Every race has a flag but the coon.” How true! Aye! But that was said of us four years ago. They can’t say it now….2
The race catechism Garveyites used explained the significance of the red, black, and green as “Red is the color of the blood which men must shed for their redemption and liberty”, black for “the color of the noble and distinguished race to which we belong,” and green for “the luxuriant vegetation of our Motherland.”3
A flag must represent the standard by which it’s people live. Thus, the Universal African Flag, the 39th Article of the Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World was ratified in convention.
There has been a great deal of talk and controversy over the origin, creation and use of the Red, Black and Green. The UNIA hopes that this controversy can be clarified once and for all.
There was no Red, Black and Green Flag prior to the coming of the Honorable Marcus Garvey and the founding of the UNIA. Today there are many African Nations that have adopted the colors Red, Black and Green after the great Marcus Garvey and his program of African Redemption. Any one claiming the creation of the Red, Black and Green is historically incorrect. The UNIA organization will make every attempt to clear up any misunderstandings about the matter concerning the Red, Black and Green. Further confusion can be misleading to the masses of Blacks throughout the country and the world.
The following paragraph is the official historical creation and usage of the Red, Black and Green:
Notice to the General Public:
The UNIA in 1920 in international convention adopted the Red, Black and Green as its official colors and emblem of the Black people of the world. This flag has been flown upside down contrary to the intention of Marcus Garvey and the UNIA who gave it to the world. It is unlawful, disrespectful and traitorous for any individual or group to add any other colors to the Red, Black and Green for any other purpose. Individuals or groups doing so are not true nationalist, and should not be recognized as such.
Respect and honour your flag as it stands…a Universal banner for African People.
1) RACE FIRST: The Ideological and Organizational Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association
2) Negro World, March 19, 1927 (reprint of a 1921 speech)
4) Garvey’s Voice, July 1974