This article explores the history of the Garvey movement in Cleveland, Ohio (United States). Captivated by Jamaican Marcus Garvey's message of race pride and black self determination, thousands of working-class black Clevelanders joined his transnational Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). At its peak in the early 1920s, the UNIA claimed 6 million members worldwide. Following Garvey's death in 1940, the UNIA relocated its world headquarters to Cleveland, placing the city at the centre of the transnational Garvey movement. Black Clevelanders came to see themselves through Garveyism as connected to the global African diaspora, with women playing a visible role in fostering these transnational linkages. Simultaneously, the UNIA recognized the Midwest as a central player in this worldwide black movement. Recovering this largely unknown story provides insight a broader history of what I call the 'diasporic Midwest'. I use the term as an empirical and theoretical framework for examining black Midwestern life and history through a transnational approach. Garveyism enabled blacks in Cleveland to forge a diasporic oppositional consciousness and pursue their freedom dreams often under seemingly intractable obstacles from the 1920s through the 1970s. The history of Garveyism in Cleveland provides useful lessons for thinking about contemporary black diasporic struggles for freedom.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-182
Number of pages20
JournalAfrican Identities
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2011


  • African redemption
  • Cleveland
  • Diasporic midwest
  • Garveyism
  • Gender
  • Oppositional consciousness
  • Working-class

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology


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