At Liberty Hall, New York, 1 August, 1920 The Honorable Marcus Garvey delivered the opening address as follows:
Fellow Members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, Delegates to the Convention, Friends and Fellow Negroes: At this hour it is my honor to inform you that the Universal Negro Improvement Association of the World declares its first annual convention open. For two and a half years we have been scattering the doctrines of the U.N.I.A. to the four corners of the world, and because of the success of our work, we found it necessary to call together, at this time in Liberty Hall, the delegates of the 400,000,000 Negroes of the world, and they are here assembled in this hall this Sunday morning. They are here for the purpose of discussing the great problems that confront the Negro; they are here for the purpose of framing a bill of rights for the Negro peoples of the world; they are here for the purpose of laying plans for the redemption of the great continent of Africa. We assemble ourselves together because we believe this is the age in which the Negro, like all the other oppressed peoples of the world, should strike out for his own redemption. From the four corners of the world come delegates who are imbued with the spirit of liberty.
For over 300 years we who are citizens and denizens of this Western Hemisphere have been held in slavery. For that period of time we have been separated from our brothers and our sisters in the great continent of Africa, but this Sunday morning brings native Africans, Negroes of this Western Hemisphere, and Negroes from every country together, because we suffer in common.
Wheresoever we turn our eyes unto the four corners of the world we find the Negro suffering from the abuse of other races. Because of the perpetration of these injustices we find it necessary at this time to so unite our forces morally, financially, and physically to tear asunder the bonds that held us in slavery for 300 years. So we are here this morning, not for the purpose of compromising the cause of the Negro with any race or with any nation; we are here this morning as a free people, claiming equal rights with the rest of mankind in this creation that God Almighty gave to us all. We are here, as I said awhile ago, to frame a bill of rights, to write a new constitution that 400,000,000 black men, women and children shall support with their life blood if necessary. We are here because this is the age when all peoples are striking out for freedom, for liberty, and for democracy. We have entered this age of struggle for liberty at the same time with the people of Ireland, the people of Egypt, of India, and the people of the Eastern states of Europe.
We are here, the representatives of 400,000,000 of Negroes, determined to carve a way for ourselves in this world that God placed us in. We are here because we recognize ourselves as men, and we desire to be free men.
INTRODUCES DISTINGUISHED DELEGATE.
The delegates assembled here this morning come from all parts of the world. We have on the platform at this time one of the most respected and distinguished citizens of the great Republic of Liberia, the future headquarters of this U.N.I.A., after the convention ends on the 31st of August. I take great pleasure in introducing to you at this time the Hon. Gabriel Johnson, mayor of the city of Monrovia, Liberia, and general of the Liberian army. (The audience here stood as a token of respect to Mr. Johnson, and the band played the national anthem.)
Continuing, Mr. Garvey said: Considering all the circumstances and environments that surround the Negro in Western civilization, we of the U.N.I.A. believe that the best thing for the Negro to do is to consolidate his racial force in building his own motherland, Africa. We believe that any progress, any advancement made by the Negro in Western alien civilization is a progress, is an advancement that is insecure, because at any time the alien forces desire to destroy the progess and development of the Negro–the advancement of the Negro–they can do so.
For the security of our racial strength, economically, commercially, educationally, and in every way, we have decided to concentrate on the building of the great Republic of Liberia, and to make Liberia one of the great powers of the world. We believe that the Negro is entitled to national protection. Whether we be citizens or denizens of America, we suffer from the abuse of alien race. Whether we be citizens or denizens of Great Britain, we suffer in a similar manner, and so, too, all through the nations and the countries where alien races hold sway. We therefore believe that the time has come when the 400,000,000 of us–the millions of America, the millions of the West Indies, of South and Central America, and of Africa–should unite our physical, moral and financial strength for the building up of a great government, a great nation that will protect us, whether we be in the United States of America, in Great Britain, or under any other alien government.
PROPAGANDA CIRCLES GLOBE
For the last two years we have spent over a million dollars to scatter our propaganda to the four corners of the world, and we who spent the money, and the members of the association who subscribed the money have absolutely no regret for so doing. We are satisfied that our sacrifice of two and a half years has brought together this great convention of Negroes from all parts of the world and we feel sure that within the 31 days of this month the Negroes who come to this convention will not depart without writing history for their own race–a history that we ourselves will be proud of and our posterity cherish.
Today as you assemble in Liberty Hall you present to me the noblest company and most brilliant array of Negroes in the world at this time. I feel sure that outside of the scattered branches of the U.N.I.A. there is no group of Negroes thinking as we are in terms of freedom, not fettered freedom, but absolute freedom.
We are the only set of Negroes who believe that if it is right for the white man to rule and dominate, if it is right for the yellow man to rule and dominate, it is also right for 400,000,000 black people to rule and dominate and shape their own destiny. That is the reason why we meet in Liberty Hall, not as cringing sycophants, but as men and women standing erect and demanding our rights from all quarters.
Let me bid the delegates welcome to Liberty Hall, the cradle of Negro liberty. Let me compliment the members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association for the splendid work they have done in the last two and a half years because they burden of this work fell on us here in New York. For two and a half years we have had to sacrifice thousands and thousands of dollars, indeed, hundreds of thousands of dollars. We have had to sacrifice our time day in and day out, in order to spread this propaganda. When men of our own race despised and discouraged us, when men of other races spurned us and did everything to prevent us from organizing, we got together and floated the banner of the red, the black and the green until today we have over 700 branches of this association in every nation of the world. We have an active membership of three and a half million and after this convention we feel that in the space of twelve months we will not only have three and a half but at least one hundred million members in the U.N.I.A.
We are hoping in another decade that the Negro will be organized universally so as to be able to take care of his own liberty, of his own freedom, and establish his own democracy. And let me say to you that we will do this not because we are all powerful among ourselves, but because we will hold Jesus Christ as our standard bearer, and wheresoever He leads, we will follow in like manner as we followed Him up the heights of Calvary. When the white man despised and spurned Him, a member of the black race Simon the Cyrenian, took up the cross and bore it with Jesus. And as we bore it then and followed Him up the heights of Calvary, so are we following Him now.
The delegates who came to New York have absolutely nothing to fear. There is no race or nation in the world that can intimidate the present day Negro. The New Negroes’ cry is that we must have liberty or death. We aer men. We were sent to France and Flanders and Mesopotamia by the white man to fight for democracy. That democracy we have not yet won, and we will continue to fight for it until we have completely won it for ourselves. We refuse to beg or cringe any longer; we demand our rightful place in the sun. So let me bid you again welcome to Liberty Hall–welcome to the first convention of the U.N.I.A. I trust our deliberations for the 31 days of August will be brimful of great results. I feel they will be. Therefore I ask the support of every Negro in this State, morally and financially, to help this convention achieve the success which it rightly deserves.