Emigrate To Africa? A 1920s Debate
This article was originally published in Scholastic Search, Teacher's Edition
The "Harlem Renaissance" of the 1920s saw an explosion in the number of black artists, musicians, writers, and most important black pride. Activists talked about the emergence of a "New Negro" who would no longer stand for injustice. But exactly how to fight back was a matter for debate. Some hoped to win equality in a more tolerant America; others saw no hope in a land ruled by whites. The latter group favored emigration to Africa.
What follows are excerpts from the writings of the two most influential leaders of the day on the subject. After reading each of these excerpts, answer the questions at the bottom of the page.
"When we started our [program], several so-called intellectual Negroes said that we were crazy, that the Negro people of the Western world were not interested in Africa and could not live in Africa. Some said that the black man would ultimately work out his existence alongside of the white man. Those who have followed the opportunists who have always sought to live off the ideas of other people.
"It is only a question of a few more years when Africa will be completely colonized by Negroes, as Europe is by the white race. What we want is an independent African nationality. It is only a question of a few more years before our program will be accepted as the only solution to the great race problem. There is no other way to avoid the threatening war of the races that is bound to engulf mankind. The time has come for Asiatics to govern themselves in Asia, as Europeans do in Europe and the Western world. So also is it wise for Africans to govern themselves at home, and thereby bring peace and satisfaction to the entire human family." Marcus Garvey
"A nation [of blacks] that has endured slavery, Reconstruction, and present prejudice three hundred years, and under it increased in numbers and efficiency, is not in any immediate danger of extinction. Nor is the thought of voluntary or involuntary emigration more than a dream of men who forget that there are half as many Negroes in the United States as Spaniards in Spain. If this be so, then a few plain propositions may be laid down as [true]:
1. The Negro is here to stay; 2. It is to the advantage of all, both black and white, that every Negro should make the best of himself; 3. It is the duty of the Negro to raise himself by every effort to the standards of modern civilization and not to lower those standards in any degree; 4. It is the duty of the white people to guard their civilization against [corruption] by themselves or others. But in order to do this it is not necessary to hinder and retard the efforts of an earnest people to rise, simply because they lack faith in the ability of that people; 5. With these duties in mind and with a spirit of self-help, mutual aid, and cooperation, the two races should strive side by side to realize the ideals of the Republic and make this truly a land of equal opportunity for all men." W.E.B. Du Bois