What Was the “Back to Africa” Movement?

The “Back to Africa” movement was a movement founded by Marcus Garvey in the early 20th century which aimed to help all African-Americans move back to Africa. Garvey originally founded the movement in Jamaica, but eventually moved to New York to direct it. The movement espoused the idea that African-Americans could never have true civil rights and equality in the United States and therefore needed to move to Africa.

From his headquarters in Harlem, New York, Marcus Garvey gave speeches to African-Americans suggesting they move to Africa for liberation. He and his organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association, attracted many interested followers. Over time, this movement grew to spur one of the largest African-American mass migrations in history. The concept even spread to other regions such as South America, Great Britain and the Caribbean.

However, not all African-Americans accepted this philosophy. According to the African-American Migration Experience, many middle and upper class African-Americans did not believe in Garvey’s rhetoric. The followers of his beliefs that the African-American search for equality was impossible came primarily from the South and from lower socioeconomic brackets. Ultimately, several ships and a transportation line were purchased to help the mass immigration of African-Americans back to Africa. However, the plan to go to Liberia never happened as intended. After an investigation by the federal government, Marcus Garvey was convicted of fraud and sent to prison.