The Conflict Between Marcus Garvey and W. E. B. Du Bois

Seminar Paper 2001 17 Pages

American Studies - Culture and Applied Geography



I. Introduction

II. Main part
1. The History of the Conflict
1.1 The First Contacts
1.2 The Beginnings of the Conflict
1.3 The Time of the Conflict
2. Articles from the Conflict
2.1 “Marcus Garvey”
2.2 “W. E. B. Du Bois as a Hater of Dark People”
2.3 “Motive of the NAACP exposed”
2.4 “A Lunatic or a Traitor”
3. The Reasons for the Conflict


The Conflict Between Marcus Garvey and W. E. B. Du Bois

I. Introduction

Theodore Vincent said "In Black American history there are two personal feuds which stand out beyond all others W. E. B. Du Bois vs. Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois vs. Marcus Garvey"[1]. Reason enough to examine at least one of these two conflicts, as they are an important factor of Black history, because they do not show united Blacks that fight side by side for their rights, but Blacks that forget that they actually fight on the same side over a personal conflict.

I will first give the history of the conflict, before analyzing some of the articles that were written in this conflict and that mirror the history and briefly show the main reasons for it.

II. Main part

1. The History of the Conflict

1.1 The First Contacts

When W. E. B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey had their first contact in May 1915, Du Bois already was a Black leader in the US, while Garvey had just the month before established his UNIA in Jamaica. Du Bois was on a visit in Jamaica, and received a very friendly welcome-letter by Garvey. Soon afterwards they met in person, shook hands and Garvey told Du Bois briefly of his plans, eager to find a supporter in him.

Almost one year later, Garvey came to the US for a speaking tour through the country to raise money for a project in Jamaica. Garvey wanted to invite Du Bois in person to his first lecture and therefore visited the NAACP headquarters. As Du Bois was not there, he left an invitation that was declined in a polite way by Du Bois, but nevertheless Du Bois announced Garvey's tour in his magazine "the Crisis".

During his tour Garvey decided, that the US was the place for his ideas and that he should therefore stay in the United States. He started speaking weekly in Harlem, soon found a huge amount of followers, officially founded the US branch of the UNIA end of July 1918 and short afterwards established the UNIA newspaper "The Negro World".

1.2 The Beginnings of the Conflict

At this point, Du Bois still ignored Garvey and his movement, but the conflict was about to break out in late 1918, when Du Bois went to the Peace Conference in Paris, that he wanted to participate to advance the agenda of coloreds worldwide. He also wanted to try to organize a Pan-African Congress there. Garvey, too, intended to use the Peace Conference for his aims and appointed three of his followers to attend the Conference. But as they had problems in getting visa they did not manage to get there in time. One of Garvey's men, the Haitian Cadet, finally arrived in Paris, but it was too late and even the Pan-African Congress, that Du Bois had organized and held in the meanwhile, had already ended. Instead of blaming himself, Garvey put the blame for Cadet's failure of achieving anything in Europe on Du Bois. He openly declared that Du Bois intrigued against Cadet in a speech that he gave in March 1919 and there called on his audience to show its "complete repudiation of Dr. Du Bois for interfering”[2]. This accusation was taken serious by many Blacks and when Du Bois came back to the US he had to answer many questions from the masses.

In July 1919 Garvey incorporated the Black Star Line, the UNIA steamship company, that was owned by Blacks and that had only Black employees. Although doubts on this corporation were already published by other magazines and newspapers, "the Crisis" still was neutral towards Garvey and even acknowledged him as "new ally in the fight for black democracy". Nevertheless Du Bois was not that neutral outside of his own magazine. Du Bois and Garvey both were interviewed and told the interviewer what they really thought of each other. Du Bois expressed his belief in Garvey's downfall, and Garvey called Du Bois depended on Whites.

While Garvey Published his UNIA Declaration of Rights and was selected Provisional President of Africa, Du Bois investigated the operations of the Black Star Line and published his results in a two-part essay, in the "Crisis" issues of December 1920 and January 1921, simply called "Marcus Garvey". The first part of the two is an analysis of Garvey himself, the second one more like a financial report. He critiques Garvey's failures but not his program and keeps a quite neutral tone, that just sometimes gets a tendency to insult. Garvey is characterized as honest and sincere but as well as dictatorial and unable to get along with co-workers, and explains the real state of the Black Star Line that was not as good as Garvey presented it and says that Garvey thinks of everything as too easy before he lists Garvey's mistakes and finally hopes that Garvey will not produce too much damage.

1.3 The Time of the Conflict

The fronts between Garvey and Du Bois hardened . In a speech the President of the US insulted Du Bois. For Garvey this was very welcome and in his own speeches used it as a joke. By the end of 1921 Du Bois and the NAACP saw themselves constantly ridiculed and denounced by Garvey and his followers.


[1] Manning Marable, W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Radical Democrat (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986) 113

[2] David Lewering Lewis, W. E. B. Du Bois (New York: Henry Holt, 2000) 60


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Title: The Conflict Between Marcus Garvey and W. E. B. Du Bois