Skip to Main Content

Marcus Garvey, “Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World,” 1920

Use this primary source text to explore key historical events.

Suggested Sequencing


Despite the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, at the beginning of the twentieth century, many African Americans still experienced widespread discrimination, especially in the South. Leaders such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Ida B. Wells fought for recognition of and respect for African Americans’ rights in the hope that blacks could be accepted within white society. However, some civil rights leaders like Marcus Garvey did not want blacks to live with whites. As a black nationalist, Garvey instead argued that African Americans should emigrate to the continent of their ancestors. He formed the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1914 to promote his “Back to Africa” message. In 1920, he and 25,000 UNIA delegates convened to write the following declaration.

Sourcing Questions

  1. Who wrote this document?
  2. How was Garvey’s approach to helping blacks in the United States different from other civil rights leaders during his time?

Vocabulary Text
brethren (n): literally, brothers; fellow members Be It Resolved, That the Negro people of the world, through their chosen representatives in convention assembled in Liberty Hall, in the City of New York and United States of America, from August 1 to August 31, in the year of Our Lord one thousand nine hundred and twenty, protest against the wrongs and injustices they are suffering at the hands of their white brethren, and state what they deem their fair and just rights, as well as the treatment they propose to demand of all men in the future.
We complain:
accord (v): to give or grant 1. That nowhere in the world, with few exceptions, are black men accorded equal treatment with white men, although in the same situation and circumstances, but, on the contrary, are discriminated against and denied the common rights due to human beings for no other reason than their race and color.
We are not willingly accepted as guests in the public hotels and inns of the world for no other reason than our race and color.
2. In certain parts of the United States of America our race is denied the right of public trial accorded to other races when accused of crime, but are lynched and burned by mobs, and such brutal and inhuman treatment is even practiced upon our women.
parcel (v): to divide into portions 3. That European nations have parcelled out among them and taken possession of nearly all of the continent of Africa, and the natives are compelled to surrender their lands to aliens and are treated in most instances like slaves.
4. In the southern portion of the United States of America, although citizens under the Federal Constitution, and in some States almost equal to the whites in population and are qualified land owners and taxpayers, we are, nevertheless, denied all voice in the making and administration of the laws and are taxed without representation by the State governments, and at the same time compelled to do military service in defense of the country.
conveyance (n): transportation

jim-crowed: restricted by Jim Crow laws, which segregated blacks from whites in the South, in public areas and transportation
5. On the public conveyances and common carriers in the southern portion of the United States we are jim-crowed and compelled to accept separate and inferior accommodations and made to pay the same fare charged for first-class accommodations, and our families are often humiliated and insulted by drunken white men who habitually pass through the jim-crow cars going to the smoking car.
6. The physicians of our race are denied the right to attend their patients while in the public hospitals of the cities and States where they reside in certain parts of the United States.
Our children are forced to attend inferior separate schools for shorter terms than white children, and the public school funds are unequally divided between the white and colored schools.
7. We are discriminated against and denied an equal chance to earn wages for the support of our families, and in many instances are refused admission into labor unions and nearly everywhere are paid smaller wages than white men.
leper (n): a person who is afflicted with the contagious disease, leprosy. The term also refers figuratively to one who is avoided or rejected for moral or social reasons.

attainment (n): achievement
8. In the Civil Service and departmental offices we are everywhere discriminated against and made to feel that to be a black man in Europe, America and the West Indies is equivalent to being an outcast and a leper among the races of men, no matter what the character attainments of the black men may be.
cunningly (adv): in a clever or deceitful way 9. In the British and other West Indian islands and colonies Negroes are secretly and cunningly discriminated against and denied those fuller rights of government to which white citizens are appointed, nominated and elected.
10. That our people in those parts are forced to work for lower wages than the average standard of white men and are kept in conditions repugnant to good civilized tastes and customs.
11. That the many acts of injustices against members of our race before the courts of law in the respective islands and colonies are of such nature as to create disgust and disrespect for the white man’s sense of justice.
emphatically (adv): in a forceful way 12. Against all such inhuman, unchristian and uncivilized treatment we here and now emphatically protest, and invoke the condemnation of all mankind.
In order to encourage our race all over the world and to stimulate it to overcome the handicaps and difficulties surrounding it, and to push forward to a higher and grander destiny, we demand and insist on the following Declaration of Rights:
denizen (n): an inhabitant or occupant of a certain place 1. Be it known to all men that whereas all men are created equal and entitled to the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and because of this we, the duly elected representatives of the Negro peoples of the world, invoking the aid of the just and Almighty God, do declare all men, women and children of our blood throughout the world free denizens, and do claim them as free citizens of Africa, the Motherland of all Negroes. . . .
4. We declare that Negroes, wheresoever they form a community among themselves should be given the right to elect their own representatives to represent them in Legislatures, courts of law, or such institutions as may exercise control over that particular community.
5. We assert that the Negro is entitled to even-handed justice before all courts of law and equity in whatever country he may be found, and when this is denied him on account of his race or color such denial is an insult to the race as a whole and should be resented by the entire body of Negroes.
6. We declare it unfair and prejudicial to the rights of Negroes in communities where they exist in considerable numbers to be tried by a judge and jury composed entirely of an alien race, but in all such cases members of our race are entitled to representation on the jury. . . .
levy (v): to impose 8. We declare taxation without representation unjust and tyran[n]ous, and there should be no obligation on the part of the Negro to obey the levy of a tax by any law-making body from which he is excluded and denied representation on account of his race and color.
9. We believe that any law especially directed against the Negro to his detriment and singling him out because of his race or color is unfair and immoral, and should not be respected.
10. We believe all men entitled to common human respect and that our race should in no way tolerate any insults that may be interpreted to mean disrespect to our race or color.
deprecate (v): to express disapproval of 11. We deprecate the use of the term “nigger” as applied to Negroes, and demand that the word “Negro” be written with a capital “N.”
12. We believe that the Negro should adopt every means to protect himself against barbarous practices inflicted upon him because of color. . . .
14. We believe in the inherent right of the Negro to possess himself of Africa and that his possession of same shall not be regarded as an infringement of any claim or purchase made by any race or nation.
cupidity (n): greed for money or possessions 15. We strongly condemn the cupidity of those nations of the world who, by open aggression or secret schemes, have seized the territories and inexhaustible natural wealth of Africa, and we place on record our most solemn determination to reclaim the treasures and possession of the vast continent of our forefathers.
ire (n): anger 16. We believe all men should live in peace one with the other, but when races and nations provoke the ire of other races and nations by attempting to infringe upon their rights[,] war becomes inevitable, and the attempt in any way to free one’s self or protect one’s rights or heritage becomes justifiable.
17. Whereas the lynching, by burning, hanging or any other means, of human beings is a barbarous practice and a shame and disgrace to civilization, we therefore declare any country guilty of such atrocities outside the pale of civilization. . . .
19. We protest against the atrocious practice of shaving the heads of Africans, especially of African women or individuals of Negro blood, when placed in prison as a punishment for crime by an alien race.
20. We protest against segregated districts, separate public conveyances, industrial discrimination, lynchings and limitations of political privileges of any Negro citizen in any part of the world on account of race, color or creed, and will exert our full influence and power against all such. . . .
22. We protest against the system of education in any country where Negroes are denied the same privileges and advantages as other races. . . .
24. We believe in the doctrine of the freedom of the press, and we therefore emphatically protest against the suppression of Negro newspapers and periodicals in various parts of the world, and call upon Negroes everywhere to employ all available means to prevent such suppression.
25. We further demand free speech universally for all men. . . .
29. With the help of Almighty God we declare ourselves the sworn protectors of the honor and virtue of our women and children, and pledge our lives for their protection and defense everywhere and under all circumstances from wrongs and outrages.
30. We demand the right of an unlimited and unprejudiced education for ourselves and our posterity forever[.]
31. We declare that the teaching in any school by alien teachers to our boys and girls, that the alien race is superior to the Negro race, is an insult to the Negro people of the world. . . .
unmolested (adj): unbothered 35. That the right of the Negro to travel unmolested throughout the world be not abridged by any person or persons, and all Negroes are called upon to give aid to a fellow Negro when thus molested.
36. We declare that all Negroes are entitled to the same right to travel over the world as other men. . . .
38. We demand complete control of our social institutions without interference by any alien race or races.
39. That the colors, Red, Black and Green, be the colors of the Negro race.
40. Resolved, That the anthem “Ethiopia, Thou Land of Our Fathers etc.,” shall be the anthem of the Negro race. . . .
prerogative (n): privilege 41. We believe that any limited liberty which deprives one of the complete rights and prerogatives of full citizenship is but a modified form of slavery. . . .
44. We deplore and protest against the practice of confining juvenile prisoners in prisons with adults, and we recommend that such youthful prisoners be taught gainful trades under human[e] supervision.
45. Be it further resolved, That we as a race of people declare the League of Nations null and void as far as the Negro is concerned, in that it seeks to deprive Negroes of their liberty.
46. We demand of all men to do unto us as we would do unto them, in the name of justice; and we cheerfully accord to all men all the rights we claim herein for ourselves. . . .
48. We protest against the practice of drafting Negroes and sending them to war with alien forces without proper training, and demand in all cases that Negro soldiers be given the same training as the aliens.
49. We demand that instructions given Negro children in schools include the subject of “Negro History,” to their benefit. . . .
51. We declare for the absolute freedom of the seas for all peoples. . . .
53. We proclaim the 31st day of August of each year to be an international holiday to be observed by all Negroes.
54. We want all men to know that we shall maintain and contend for the freedom and equality of every man, woman and child of our race, with our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.
These rights we believe to be justly ours and proper for the protection of the Negro race at large, and because of this belief we, on behalf of the four hundred million Negroes of the world, do pledge herein the sacred blood of the race in defense, and we hereby subscribe our names as a guarantee of the truthfulness and faithfulness hereof, in the presence of Almighty God, on this 13th day of August, in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and twenty.

Comprehension Questions

  1. Where were the delegates assembled?
  2. According to this document, why were blacks not admitted to public hotels and inns?
  3. According to this document, what problems did blacks face on public transportation?
  4. According to this document, how did funding for black schools compare with funding for white schools?
  5. According to this document, how did the wages for black workers compare with those of white workers?
  6. Why did the delegates demand a Declaration of Rights?
  7. According to this document, what right should blacks have concerning trials by judges and juries?
  8. According to this document, what rights did black people have concerning the continent of Africa?
  9. What punishment involving black peoples’ hair did this document protest against?
  10. According to this document, what rights should black newspapers have?
  11. According to this document, how would the delegates view the teaching of the superiority of other races?
  12. According to this document, what were the colors of the black race?
  13. What did this document state concerning the League of Nations?
  14. What did the delegates pledge in defense of the rights listed in Garvey’s text?

Historical Reasoning Questions

  1. Compare the Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World with the Declaration of Independence. How are they similar? How are they different?
  2. Does this document follow the U.S. tradition of republican principles? Defend your answer.

“Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World”