In spite of recent historical studies of Amy Ashwood Garvey and Amy Jacques Garvey, which demonstrate a growing appreciation of women’s contributions to the UNIA and Black Nationalism, the significance of Lady Henrietta Vinton Davis, the first female president of the UNIA, remains overlooked.1 And yet, while neither of Garvey’s wives ever held an official position in the UNIA once it was brought to the United States, Henrietta Vinton Davis served in the UNIA hierarchy from 1919 to 1927 when Garvey was deported.2
Within the discourse on Garvey’s wives, Davis appears as a yet curiously a-political figure as she was Garvey’s confidant during both his marriages and befriended both spouses. In fact, she was the first to know of his plans to divorce Ashwood. Davis became the roommate of Garvey and Jacques prior to their marriage and worked to help Jacques hold the organization together during Garvey’s trial, incarceration and deportation.3 She traveled to Jamaica ahead of Garvey in 1927 to help prepare the Kingston Division for his arrival and was instrumental in arranging a hero’s welcome for him there.4 Davis was integral in helping Garvey re-organize the UNIA in 1927 with Jamaica as headquarters, and she used her name to help him obtain a printing press for the Black Man Magazine he attempted to publish as the periodical of the new UNIA.5
Lady Davis’ official involvement with the UNIA lasted twelve years and encompassed numerous leadership positions. Her commitment to the pursuit of racial uplift and the betterment of all throughout the Diaspora lasted a lifetime. While she held many positions in the organization, her responsibilities almost always overlapped. Davis’ entry into the organization as national head of the Lady’s Division in 1919 followed by her dual roles as national head of the Lady’s Division in 1919 followed by her dual roles as International Organizer from 1919 to 1920 and Fourth President-General from 1920 to 1929 led to her ascent to the office of Second Director of the Black Star Line in 1919 to 1924. She maintained this title in its successor organization, the Black Cross Navigation and Trading Company from 1924 to 1929. Lady Davis never let her job description limit her ability to serve the interests of the UNIA. In her roles as a UNIA officer, Davis traveled throughout the United Sates, the Panama Canal Zone, Central America and Africa. She helped to establish Black Cross Nurse auxiliaries wherever she went and even signed applications for charters to establish UNIA divisions throughout the Caribbean. Lady Davis became a model by which other UNIA women judged themselves and served as a model of the ideal UNIA woman for much of the male membership.6 During her time as a UNIA officer, she was the only one of the original thirteen signers (besides Garvey himself) of the UNIA Inc. to remain loyal to the UNIA programs as established in 1919.
As a role model and leader, Davis expressed an unwavering loyalty to the uplift of the race and a commitment to advancing the role of women in the pursuit of racial progress. In pursuit of these goals she displayed a never ending admiration of Garvey and men like him and demonstrated a commitment to future generations and a willingness to publicly take on obstacles that threatened the progress of the UNIA.
To date, no full historical treatment of Davis’s life exists, nor is there much comprehensive treatment of her individual contributions to the UNIA. This chapter will discuss Henrietta Vinton Davis’ leadership in the UNIA by examining speeches as recorded in The Negro World, the UNIA Convention Bulletins, her personal letters, and the Bureau of Investigation’s observations of her. This chapter will also evaluate the ways in which her life prior to the UNIA shaped her style of leadership.
The Making of a Race Lady
Lady Davis was a key figure in the progress of the UNIA from its second beginning in New York to her self-imposed departure in 1934. She was instrumental in galvanizing the lay membership in support of the Black Star Line, orchestrating talks between the UNIA and foreign governments, and mentoring the potential next cadre of UNIA officers. Davis’ absence from comprehensive historical treatments stems in part from the focus of historians on Marcus Garvey and his wives as individuals as was previously mentioned. Aside from this, Davis’ inability to fit readily into one of the dominant historical archetypes of the period which include proto-feminist, club woman or DuBois’ reconfigured “Mammy” image, noted in his “Damnation” essay, served to push her further into the historical shadows of the organization itself and its leader. Further compounding the difficulties in rescuing Lady Davis from the fringes of history are misconceptions about her prominence both prior to and during her time as a UNIA official and about the motives of a woman over fifty who joined a group initially dominated by people aged forty and under. Her story is further complicated by a lack of archival records and sources on her life. Davis’ entrance onto the theatrical stage in 1883 was the start of a career dominated by a spirit of perseverance which garnered her mixed reviews at times but which also caused her to be known as the lady who “put her whole soul into words.”7
What is known is that after previously working as a school teacher in her native Maryland and in Louisiana and resigning her position as Recorder of Deeds in 1884, she started her own theater production company in 1893 in Chicago to produce plays with nationalist themes.8 During this time, in 1898, she co-authored the play Our Old Kentucky Home with John Edward Bruce who also became a member of the UNIA.9
Historian Judith Stein argues that Davis’ attraction to the UNIA “was typical of the cultural wing of the petite bourgeoisies” and that while Davis had a place “in popular culture” during the period as an actress, she “lacked secure employment.”10 There are other more convincing explanations for Ms. Davis’ attraction to the UNIA and ultimately for Garvey’s alliance with her. Her identification with Garvey resulted in significant part from the influence of her stepfather, George A. Hackett, an advocate “…for the rights of blacks during the antebellum period.”11 In 1859 he worked to defeat the Jacobs Bill which “intended to enslave the children of free Africans and deport their parents from the state of Maryland.”12 Hackett, a member of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Maryland, succeeded radical activist William Watkins, who argued for the education of African-Americans and opposed
African colonization schemes. Historian Leroy Graham depicts George Alexander Hackett as an “energetic lay minister” in the 1840s who used his gift of oration for twenty years to address such concerns in the community as education, health care, emancipation, poor relief and the formation of benevolent societies.13 Through his community work, he regularly entertained the likes of Douglass, Henry H. Garnet, Peter H. Clark, and “the noted philanthropist, Stephen Smith” at his home.14 It is certainly possible that Davis developed her interest in the UNIA based on her experiences in these circles.
In the 1890s and throughout the first half of the 20th Century, opportunities for African-Americans in the “legitimate” theater were limited due in part to their inability to secure financing. One of the major tenets of the UNIA, financial empowerment, which could lead to the owning of theaters and production companies as evidenced by their ownership of a record label, presented Davis and others with the hope of practicing their craft and avoiding “race based” type casting. Davis’ inability to secure a backer, according to New York Age editor T. Thomas Fortune, hindered her success on the stage. He argued that Davis’ lack of widespread success was due in part to her lack of a “…manager with plenty of money behind him” which he believed would be the surest way for Davis to achieve “…fame and fortune on the regular stage,…”15 The UNIA provided a form of steady employment albeit with limited pecuniary benefits and a modicum of fame. However, her time in the organization was not a role in a play or a means for gaining personal popularity. Lady Davis’ record of service indicates that she was devoted to the causes of the UNIA, a homeland for African-Americans, economic independence and stability for African-Americans, and in the first instance at least to Marcus Garvey. For these reasons she used her talents, time and connections to promote the UNIA.
Lady Davis engaged in the plethora of strategies to alleviate the horrors of segregation. For her, one of by-products of Jim Crow’s horrors was the existence of classism in the African-American community which she abhorred. Her participation in the UNIA’s grassroots organization was shunned by many of her middle class peers in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She often linked her difficulties in establishing a consistent African-American following to her failure to uphold what she perceived as assimilationist views regarding skin gradations in the African-American community.16 Her affiliation with the organization from 1916 until her death served to ostracize her from the “petite bourgeoisie” as many rebuffed Garvey as a charlatan.17 Garvey’s quarrels with members of the middle class elite, like William Edward Burghardt DuBois, also served to further alienate her from some of her former friends and patrons.18
Being ostracized by middle-class African-Americans and white elite patrons of the arts could be overwhelming. The dilemma Davis faced as a performer who placed race unity and collective economic self-sufficiency ahead of her career is best illustrated by comparing her to other artists of the era connected to the UNIA work of other artists such as Ethel Trew Dunlap, Zora Neale Hurston and Augusta Savage. Dunlap and Hurston contributed poems to the Negro World throughout the 1920s, which gained them an audience beyond the paper’s pages. Savage sculpted bronze busts of Garvey that opened doors for the display of her other works. While all these women viewed race progress as their ultimate goal, each expressed their efforts differently.
These women, like many of the period, used their artistry as a vehicle to express their sentiments on both race and gender oppression. Their work spoke to and for a specific audience and while on the surface it sometimes appeared to be art for art sake, it carried deliberate ambiguous meanings for the communities they sought to represent. This use of double meanings in cultural expressions has been noted by historians Robin D.G. Kelly, Sterling Stuckey and Carey D. Wintz.19 According to Kelly, everyday acts and cultural expression through clothes, music, plays, poetry and art work contributed to an “infrapolitics” that centered not only on how people participate in politics but why.20 Just as many of these cultural expressions were exercised in retaliation to Jim Crow, in the case of some UNIA women, these expressions also reflected the fragile relationship between the UNIA and some of its supporters.
For Ethel Trew Dunlap, a mulatto like Davis, the need for race unity as expressed by the UNIA was both a personal pursuit and a public battle to be won. Dunlap wrestled with the reality of her mixed heritage in front of the UNIA membership, lamenting in “If I Should Die Tonight”
If I should die tonight, perchance
Someone who is born fair
Might gaze into my face and see
The line of sorrow there,
And whisper: “She was freedom’s child;
She loved the outcast slave.”
And those who chided me in life
Might have pity by my grave…21
Although she admitted to struggling with her identity in the African-American community and in mainstream society due to her light skin tones, this struggle did not dampen her racial commitment or her prowess as a poet. Her determination to be seen as a member of the race and contribute to the aims of the UNIA was illustrated in her response to a fellow poet through the Negro World, when she declared that “I am not black as Kedar’s tents and yet; There is a tie that binds to Afric son; And daughter that enthralls me and enchants– So count me thou as Ethiopian.”22 In fact, her literary efforts became enhanced by her commitment to the UNIA’s cause and her loyalty to Garvey. While Dunlap’s work was primarily published by the Negro World, she engaged in an open exchange with the literati as well as everyday women and men who read the paper.
In 1921, as the UNIA was gaining ground in the American South, Dunlap encouraged readers to join in Garvey’s repatriation and reclamation efforts in “On, On To Abyssinia” stating that “…We should not tarry here, ; Where we are tossed about like chaff; And chased like deer?” Her words appear to echo the sentiments of Lady Davis who in 1919 admonished a Pittsburgh audience that the time had come “…for every Negro to link himself and herself up with the greatest of all movements, for united we can break the barriers that have been placed in our way…and carve our way to a brighter destiny.”23 Davis also iterated in Chicago, where Dunlap had first become a member. As she told her audience, “…the time is ripe, the hour is struck when the Negro should arise in his might, … standing up in the full manhood of his strength…”24 Davis also urged women to be ready to take the place of men, if the men moved too slowly. In this way she also demonstrated the urgency of the UNIA’s efficient women.
Although the Negro World was read carefully by Garvey detractors, Dunlap appeared to have written with only the UNIA members in mind. This may have served to limit her career and also rendered her absent from the Harlem Renaissance and African-American poets. Within the UNIA, her poetic peers warned her that her critical success would be limited as she failed at demonstrating her ability to construct“… intricately arranged rhyme without apparent difficulty,”25 However, the simplicity of her poetry would seem deliberate not only as she directs her poems to the lay membership of the UNIA, but also as historian Tony Martin argues, she found that there were “…enduring qualities” to “ ‘Black English.’”26 In her poem entitled “Onlys” (sometimes pronounced in colloquial language as “Onliest”), she comments on the sound of the word only when spoken by African-Americans and finds that the enunciation is “….peculiarly sweet- And so I think, I’ll let it go.”27
This celebration and promotion of the UNIA, its goals and membership, were not always readily undertaken by those who sought exposure through its pages. While Zora Neale Hurston is most noted as an author of several books, founder of the short-lived literary magazine Fire with Langston Hughes, and as an anthropologist, she produced during the Harlem Renaissance a series of poems that appeared in the Negro World.28 Her prose lacked the direct attack on Jim Crow and “call to arms” of Dunlap. However, like Dunlap she appreciated the dialect of African-Americans and chose that voice for her work. Hurston was not as criticized for the use of dialect in her work. On the surface, this played into some of the stereotypes about African-Americans of the day, which the UNIA sought to undo. Whites, however, found it entertaining and endearing. Her use of dialect may be one reason for her white patrons considering her voice avant guard, while believing that their appreciation of the dialect was in keeping with the Bohemian spirit of the period.
While many of her biographers pay special attention to the plays, books and research work she completed after leaving Barnard, few have given full attention to the poetry of her early career. The Negro World served as a training ground for Hurston as it provided “an important outlet for (her) apprentice writing” from which she moved on to “the bright lights of the Harlem Renaissance.”29 Both Dunlap and Hurston resemble the partnership model demonstrated by Davis as each found not only a vehicle for her talent in the UNIA, but one that went specifically to racial uplift and empowerment. While both of these women had lofty aims in mind, the road of advancement was paved with challenges surrounding their own personal survival and advancement.
Dunlap found satisfaction in printing her work for the everyday African-Americans. Hurston appears to have sought a larger stage and had loftier goals in mind. She presented a series of poems that avoided questions of racial oppression and instead mused about the end of life and love. As Hurston was only 31 years of age, her choice of death as a topic may seem a bit ghoulish. Yet, as evidenced by the letters written to her and answered in the Negro World, she had a receptive, captivated and multigenerational audience.30 Her exchange with readers revealed that the UNIA audience had more than “Back To Africa” on its mind. In one selection, “Passion,” she pines
When I look back
On days already lived
I am content.
For I have laughed
With the dew of morn,
The calm of the night;
With the dawn of youth
And Spring’s bright days…
And I have loved
With quivering arms that
Clung, and throbbing breast-
With all the white-hot blood
Of mating’s flaming rage.31
That the UNIA lay membership comprised people of all ages becomes apparent as the poem speaks not only of young love, but of the satisfaction of having lived a life of experiences. Still, even after her series of poetic publications in the Negro World, drew some acclaim, Hurston ridiculed Garvey in a 1924 article submitted to the New York Age entitled “The Emperor Effaces Himself.”32
The satirical treatment included the charge that Garvey viewed himself as a Napoleon and that he was a fraud. Hurston’s affront came on the heels of Garvey’s trial and sentencing to five years in prison for mail fraud. Her ridicule of Garvey came as the trial of William Shakespeare and Fred Dryer began for the murder of UNIA organizer James Eason.33 Hurston’s piece, submitted to the controversial white author of Nigger Heaven, Carl Van Vechten, seemed to echo the sentiments of W. E. B. Dubois, who called Garvey a “lunatic or traitor” in the Crisis throughout the 1920s.34 While Hurston’s commitment to documenting and presenting the lives and struggles of African-American people is well noted, she sought the approval and monetary support of a larger audience during the period. Hurston, like Dunlap and Davis, separated herself from her UNIA audience, ending a budding partnership.
Still, not all women seeking a larger audience felt forced to choose one audience over the other. Such was the case for sculptor and poet Augusta Savage. The Jacksonville, Florida native grew up making figures from clay for which her father avidly punished her. He viewed her artistic expressions as a violation of biblical teachings warning against graven images. As she approached her early teens, Augusta’s clay sculpture of the Virgin Mary changed her father’s mind and helped launch her career. While attending high school in West Palm Beach Florida, her principle paid her one dollar a day to teach sculpting during her senior year.35
Savage gained fame in UNIA circles for her bust of Garvey and later for her bust of W.E.B. DuBois. She, like Davis, was often denied access to mainstream audiences. In 1923 Savage was denied a study trip to Fontainebleau, a prestigious art studio just outside Paris, France, because the review committee did not think she would best represent the United States abroad. Savage did not let the slight go unnoticed and voiced her despair in a letter printed in the New York World, where she demanded to know “How am I to compete with other American artists if I am not given the same opportunity? (as others)”36 She was viewed as a “trouble maker” as a result, and white patrons of the arts simply wished her away. Savage remained undaunted and in 1927 came under the tutelage of renowned Italian American sculptor Onorio Ruotolo, who was once Dean of the Leonardo da Vinci Art School in New York.37
Her ability and distinction as a sculptor were never questioned by her critics. In fact, the Negro World cited racism, not her lack of ability as the cause of her rejection by the Fontainebleau. The article admonished the “committee of American artists” who “thought her dusky hue might raise the race question.”38 Although she had been denied acceptance at Fontainebleau, Savage still had an audience within the UNIA and the African-American community at large. Her UNIA affiliations led her to work with Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes in producing pieces for the magazine Fire!!39 Her time in the UNIA also brought Savage to a life partnership in 1923 with Robert Lincoln Poston, UNIA Assistant Secretary and Liberian delegate. Poston sailed with Milton Van Lowe and Henrietta Vinton Davis to Liberia but did not survive the return voyage and died near France in 1924.40
Savage, like Davis as shall be discussed later in this chapter, had selected a life partner who was already engaged in the task of racial uplift. Poston was a Walden and Howard University educated journalist who believed fervently in the cause of African redemption. During an informal meeting with Liberian President King, he declared the UNIA colonization plan a “success” in a cable wire to Garvey. Ironically, he never lived to learn that the Liberians had backed out of a UNIA colonization plan in favor of a land contract with the Firestone Rubber Company.41 Savage remained loyal to the UNIA and its aims but waned in her support of Garvey during his 1924 trial and subsequent incarceration.42 Savage’s lukewarm loyalty to Garvey represents one of the many dilemmas women and some men in the UNIA faced.
Even though there was a relationship of mutual benefit between Savage, Garvey and the UNIA, and despite her marriage to the UNIA’s leading Liberian diplomat, Savage did not advocate the physical repatriation to Africa.43 She did, however, believe in and worked toward increasing racial pride, economic opportunity, and self-reliance in the African-American community. In 1931 the Savage School of Arts and Crafts was opened in Harlem— the first of several of her Harlem-based arts schools.44 While she was not in agreement with Garvey’s repatriation plans, Savage, as an efficient woman, believed in the aims and programs of the UNIA took precedence, and she worked to further them in her own life.
Prior to joining the UNIA, Savage worked as a live-in domestic to finance her training as a sculptor. After the death of her husband and their child at only ten days old, Savage took a job as a laundress and began to save again toward funding her artistic endeavors. She never remarried. Savage became a UNIA sympathizer rather than an active member. Her acceptance of some but not all of the UNIA’s beliefs reflects a common occurrence throughout the African-American community. The varying degrees of affiliation with the organization, which boasted that it included all persons of the Diaspora as members, was illustrated by the presence of organizers and leaders from other prominent and supposedly competing organizations as speakers at UNIA meetings. These persons included activist Mary Church Terrell. At a 1917 Harlem UNIA meeting at the Casino Palace, Terrell, one of the original founding members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and first president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Women (NACW) was a featured speaker.
At the request of Irena Moorman Blackston, one of the UNIA’s early supporters and the New York Division’s Lady President, Terrell was invited to speak on the role of women in the quest for racial progress. Terrell later served as a delegate to the International Women’s Conference held in Paris, France in 1919 and saw herself as a citizen of the world. She determined to represent women of “non-Western countries” when she spoke on behalf of the American delegation in German.45 Although few UNIA women belonged to NACW, as efficient women they engaged with other organizations that shared their desire for the progress of the race, albeit through differing strategies. Despite the distaste DuBois and other middle-class African-Americans may have felt for Garvey and the UNIA, Terrell seized an opportunity to speak to the need for unity in the fight against “humiliations of various kinds on account of race, color or creed.”46
Terrell was accustomed and willing to pay the price for her activism as she often disagreed with her sometime colleagues. In fact, she offered to resign from her position with the bi-racial organization, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), when asked to sign a petition demanding the removal of African-American troops from the German battlefield for allegedly harassing German women.47 For Terrell, like Davis, Savage, the two Mrs. Amy Garveys and many other UNIA women, the concerns of the race came before considerations of gender. Still, there was a price to be paid for this and, while Terrell was able to weather the sneers of those who shunned her more radical assertions, not all women had the same fortune. Often the price of full active membership in the UNIA could not outweigh the fulfillment of life dreams and personal tragedies. For Augusta Savage becoming a sculptor meant more than the lofty aim of returning to an Africa the Florida native had never seen.48 Still, as it was her husband’s desire to establish a colony in Africa, she encouraged his pursuits of the UNIA’s colonization goals, while maintaining her own opinions on the matter and developing her own talents.
Davis, like Dunlap, Hurston and Savage came to the UNIA with creative artistic talents and a commitment to racial uplift. While these women became symbols in the organization and were sometimes used as a part of a well orchestrated publicity machine, they did not allow the UNIA to take advantage of their presence. In fact, these women and others like them, including Ida B. Wells, actually used the UNIA as a platform to help assist and promote their very specific agendas. There is a level of sincerity and commitment in these women that drew them to the UNIA and allowed them to see its usefulness in larger contexts. By participating in collective and independent partnerships the efficient womanhood of the UNIA female membership is further established. The practice of collectively aligning with like-minded persons moving in similar directions was one Henrietta Vinton Davis cultivated early in her life and caused her to develop a select group of “friends.”
Throughout her life, those she endowed with the term “friend” included Bishop Henry M. Turner, Frederick Douglass, George Myers and John Edward Bruce. All seem to have one thing in common: the progress and promotion of African-Americans. This trait guided all her interpersonal relationships with men, including her spousal choice. In early 1885, she married Thomas T. Symmons, one of the original members of the 1887 Afro American League.49 He worked as a concert baritone and arranged a testimonial for Davis in 1884, which the New York Globe described as “one of the grandest receptions ever given to a colored lady in Philadelphia.”50 Their partnership was short lived, however. This may account for why research yields no evidence of Davis ever using his name. While records are scarce, it appears that the two separated after a quarrel in which Symmons physically abused her.51
The willingness to represent the race at its best was a trait Davis also sought in her professional acting acquaintances. She toured with Alice M. Franklin and Noni Bailey Hardy; performed Shakespeare with Powhattan Beaty, and was lauded for her performances as Lady Macbeth and Rosalind.52 She received positive reviews for her performances as a serious actress, but her comedic talents were considered mediocre at best.53 While her alliances in the theater proved to be somewhat fruitful, her career on the stage, as noted, was one that “encompasses all of the promise and frustration experienced by black actors of (that) generation.”54 She partnered with contralto singer Nonie Hardy in 1912 and toured Jamaica. While there, she managed Kingston’s Covent Garden Theater and before her departure in 1913, established the Jamaica branch of the American-based benevolent organization, the Loyal Knights and Ladies of Malachite which launched fundraisers to help school aged girls get an education.55
Davis faced many frustrations on the stage. She lamented the limited and inconsistent patronage of African-Americans, while attempting to create avenues that circumvented the limits she and other actors faced due to segregation mores in the American theater. In 1916 she expressed her dismay in a letter to John Edward Bruce, when a scheduled engagement in Yonkers, New York failed to materialize. Davis, writing from Bermuda, informed Bruce
That is alright about the recital in Yonkers. I know you did your best, but I am well acquainted with my people. I know their lack of cohesiveness—and it is that very lack that the whiteman takes advantage of. He knows the weakness of the Negro better than the Negro knows himself.56
Her travels and performances outside of the United States was as an attempt to secure a receptive audience and the financial backing she needed to perform her craft.
In this way, Henrietta Vinton Davis’ life mirrored that of Club Woman educator Dr. Anna Julia Cooper. Cooper was fired from her job as principal of an all-African-American Washington D.C. school in 1906 for supporting an academic-based curriculum. She was rejected by several graduate schools in the United States but went on to complete her Ph.D. at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1925 and returned to America and reclaimed her former administrative position.57 While Davis and Cooper sought alternatives to the limitations of their professional development away from American soil, fellow UNIA member and Clubwoman, journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett traversed the self-help organizations of the period using both mainstream and African-American presses to simultaneously further her career and her crusade which took her to the shores of England to plead the cause of Anti-Lynching.58
Davis, like Cooper and Wells-Barnett, believed that African-Americans had a role to play in development of society at large. As Cooper channeled her activism through the pursuit of “classical” education and Wells-Barnett through the dismantling of lynching, Davis attempted to find her niche through the presidential campaign of Populist Party candidate Ignatius Donnelly in 1892. In availing herself to Donnelly, she wrote twice volunteering her services to help galvanize her “…brethren…in any part of the country” as she had a desire and “…eagerness to serve my race and humanity…” 59 She was so enamored with Donnelly that she unsuccessfully attempted to dramatize his novel 1891 novel, Doctor Huguet, which was the story of an evil white physician who took over the body of an unsuspecting black man.60
While she is most noted for her work as a Shakespearean actress, and arguably one of the first African-Americans recognized as such, Davis’ body of work included plays and monologues that spoke directly or indirectly about the plight of Africans throughout the Diaspora.61 Foreshadowing her involvement with the UNIA, she produced, co-wrote and/or starred in, theatrical works that reflected the possibilities of self-government, financial independence, and unity among displaced Africans of all ilks. Her selection of works for the stage revealed her concern for the plight of Africans throughout the Diaspora, her acute awareness of conflicts within the Diaspora communities regarding color pigmentation and class, and points to how prescribed gender roles factored into the application of her nationalist ideals during the period. Davis further exemplified the efficient womanhood of the UNIA as her career demonstrated the extent to which race work was life work for women of the organization.
During the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Davis theater company produced Dessalines at the Freiberg’s Opera House in Chicago.62 Dessalines is a four-act play that depicts the Haitian Revolution as not only a war between the island nation and France, but as a war between mulattoes and darker skinned Haitians.63 The heroine of the play is a mulatto woman named Clarisse who is the sister of the mulatto leader of the French Army. Clarisse falls in love with her brother’s arch enemy, rebel leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who was depicted historically as “ as violent and blood thirsty” but becomes a gentleman as he claims the title “Monsieur,” which was a distinction normally reserved for white men and men of mixed heritage.64 Dessalines is transformed by his quest to obtain his freedom by his own hand. He states,
….had the grim spectre tied me to the trammels of eternal darkness——-thy cause; the cause of liberty would have found another champion! Liberty! Eternal inspiration of heroic deeds! A principle nature implants in all her creatures! Liberty, the birthright of all mankind. For a time man may suppress thee, but thou art of eternal youth, eternal being; and when once aroused from thy dreamy slumbers, oppression meets his sternest foe! Thy armor is more strong; thy assault is greater than prejudice and racial hatred enthroned in all their power!65
His transformation is furthered by Clarisse’s love and her Christian faith. As the plays ends, the rebels celebrate their victory by declining to raid a church that housed a considerable amount of French gold, while Clarisse and Dessalines pledge their love to one another. Clarisse observes the change in Dessalines and notes “Thou has seen his valor, and I –I have seen that;neath his visage, dark as night—‘neath the rough blunt exterior of a soldier—dwells a mind ripe for seeds of Christian good!”66 Dessalines’s transformation becomes complete as the play closes with his final remarks
‘Tis well then, that the religion which fostered in the slave love of liberty and gave him the courage to contest the power of might—with the weapons of right, shall be hereafter—the proud heritage of every Haitien!67
Davis followed this production with Our Old Kentucky Home, a play she co-wrote with John Edward Bruce in 1898. Davis directed the staging and starred in the play as the heroine Clothilde, a mulatto woman who out-smarts the Confederate Army to save her master’s illegitimate son and future husband Basil Knott.68 Clothhilde and Basil become separated during the Civil War and reunite in 1865 in Washington, DC. The language of the two lovers is far removed from that of the two slaves who met on the Knott Plantation after Basil’s father brought Clothhilde home from New Orleans. In their first meeting, Basil wonders aloud “I wonder what nigger wuz made for anyhow?” To which Clothhilde replies
Dat ces a vere hard question, ma’sieur. I do not despair for de future, me, I tink dat de Negre’s will yet become a great race, aldo dere is now so much against it. Le bon Dieu permit some tings to be for his pu’pose.69
When the pair reunites in 1865, their exchange is written as follows:
Come to my arms Clothhilde (embraces her). You are as true as steel; thrice have you shown your devotion to my interests, and this your precious life to save mine; and now in this place, I pledge my life and my sacred honor never to forget you or to forsake you. Clothhilde, you must be my wife. I love you with my heart and soul and can only be happy with you. Promise me!
Basil, when I first met years ago in Kentucky, the stamp and feel of our unspoken loves was fixed upon our hearts and registered in our memory. In the eyes of heaven our souls were then united as closely as they ever can be; it needs now only the sanction of the law to bind them together indissolubly, and I am ready, dear Basil, to consecrate and dedicate my life to make your remaining years the happiest you have ever enjoyed.70
In Dessalines and Our Old Kentucky Home freedom is won through an individual’s effort as a part of a collective. Not only is one’s situation in life transformed, but it became easier to express the desires of one’s heart as freedom also creates a new language. The tongue becomes loosed as the bonds of slavery and oppression are broken. For Dessalines, the experience is reminiscent of that of Phyllis Wheatley, who wrote “Their color is a diabolic dye.’ Remember Christians; Negroes, black as Cain, May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.”71 His refinement, like the refinement of Basil Knott, comes as both men engage in the pursuit of freedom from racial oppression, with a woman who has captured their heart. In part it is the love of the woman and the desire to be worthy of her love that pushes these men toward their transformation.
In both plays the heroes make a point of protecting the chastity of the heroine.72 The heroines become the guides for the heroes and bring out the better sides of their nature. Clarisse encourages Dessalines to have mercy on the men who ransomed her in his name by explaining that just as “Man searches his cold judicial mind for reasons; woman is guided by the promptings of her heart.” Being guided by her heart, Clothhilde risks her own life by crossing enemy lines three times to save her beloved Basil by shooting down rebel snipers who were after him.73 In both plays Miss Davis played the mulatto heroine who saw beyond color gradients and sought in the words of Clothilde to unite Africans of all ilks because “We po’ slavs, of whatever color or condition, must all suffer alike.”74 This suffering was very real for Davis, whose ancestry was viewed as blight on her career. Errol Hill observed that Miss Davis’ light complexion made her “not noticeably different from dozens of other actresses on the stage with similar ability.”75 Her features would have allowed her to pass for white as noted by one critic
Ms. Davis is a singularly beautiful woman, you know more than a brunette, certainly no talk of Venice Spanish or Italian lady in hue, with a less justly expressive eyes and a mouth molded upon Adelaide Nielsen’s God….76
Although her features placed her in the company of high society, she rejected any assertion of color gradation as cause for separation within the race. For her, any separation within the race would undermine the potential for progress. Davis recognized, as did Rigaud and Lefebre in Dessalines,
But what can we hope to gain by affiliation with the blacks? We have nothing in common. They are envious of us—literally hate us; while we –we despise them.
Their hatred is our own making.
Thy prejudices enlarge upon thy fears. A common cause would make us friends
Although hindered by de jure racism and de facto prejudice, Henrietta Vinton Davis’ career in the theater reflected a conscious choice to present work that elevated not only her status as an actress but the mindset of her audiences.78 That she was all too aware of who would see her work is evidenced in the few biographical sketches of her life. Her chroniclers all note that among her greatest accomplishments was the avoidance of “The Coon” circuit. While there is some indication that she may have participated briefly in one of the “coon” plays of the period, there is no other evidence to support this fact.79
Prior to her affiliation with the UNIA, she strove to be a serious actress, selected roles
that were previously regarded as the exclusive domain of white actors, and promoted plays that depicted an independent, moral and self sufficient people of the African Diaspora. Her selection of colleagues just as her selection of stage work was guided by a desire to elevate the race and counter negative stereotypes. In 1902 the Colored American noted that Miss Davis’ versatility could have led to her becoming the “natural head” of a formidable stock company had not the prejudice of the day limited her opportunity.80 Although the paper had a theater company in mind, Davis would go on to become both the figurative and literal head of another kind of stock company: the Black Star Line and the Black Cross Navigation and Shipping Company, both UNIA entrepreneurial shipping entities.
In 1916 Miss Davis was 56 years old, and while some would expect her to be winding down, much like Anna Julia Cooper who completed her Ph.D. at age 60, Miss Davis was preparing for the largest stage any woman had performed on. She would take the world stage as the UNIA’s diplomat in 1916. She was invited by Garvey to give a speech on race progress at the Casino Ballroom (later known as Liberty Hall) and by evening’s end became the UNIA’s most celebrated member. Along with thirteen others, Davis was one of the original signers of the Universal Negro Improvement Association at its New York incorporation. When she signed her name, she declared her unwavering loyalty to the aims the UNIA.
Protector and Defender of the UNIA
On August 25, 1919 the Universal Negro Improvement Association held its annual convention meeting at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Henrietta Vinton Davis served as Chair of the meeting. While her main responsibility that evening was to introduce the speakers and keep the program flowing, Davis took time to implore non-members in her audience to join the UNIA and stressed the importance of buying stock in its new venture, the Black Star Line (BSL). Davis viewed investing in the company as one of the many ways the UNIA encouraged people of the African Diaspora to invest in themselves and secure their future.
As one of the founding members of the UNIA’s American incorporation, Henrietta
Vinton Davis was elected to, appointed or drafted to serve on nearly every formal and informal program of the organization. As a result, many of the great successes of the organization as well as some of its many failures rested in her hands. Her status was evident in 1929 when Marcus Garvey, at his Jamaica hero’s welcome celebration orchestrated largely by Davis, blamed her for the organization’s disarray. Garvey revealed his dismay at finding that while Davis served as “the Fourth President General” she had “done nothing to give new life to the organization,…”81Although this criticism may have stemmed from Garvey’s frustration with his status as a convicted criminal deportee, who returned to his native country with little to no money in his pocket, it also implies the depths of Davis’ responsibilities within the organization. His disgrace was only heightened by his perception of the stagnation of the organization that he “intended to give (his) life to.” His assertions revealed the magnitude of power and authority Lady Davis possessed in his eyes and his criticism indicated that he felt she had not done enough with that power.
Henrietta Vinton Davis’ duties included enlarging membership rolls, selling stocks for the Black Star Line Shipping Company and serving as president. She viewed herself as “something of a diplomat” and in that capacity served to protect and further the UNIA’s program throughout the Diaspora.82 Her devotion to the UNIA was limitless and even transcended her loyalty to Garvey. By 1931 she joined a rival UNIA faction, known as the UNIA Incorporated, headed by Dr. Lionel A Francis of the often troubled Philadelphia branch.83 In 1934 she became president of the rival faction and maintained that the organization would continue to pursue the programs established under Garvey’s leadership as he had presented great “contribution to Negro progress … despite his mistakes and shortcomings.”84
As her duties seemed to overlap at varying times, Davis was constantly on the move. This brought her under the watchful eye of both the United Sates and British Intelligence Agencies. Her exposure to audiences in the Caribbean from her touring days in 1911 and 1912 served to draw crowds. However, according to Bureau of Investigations (BI) Agent W.L. Buchanan, it was her ability as an “eloquent speaker” and “educated and able speaker” that had “personality and a forceful way of expressing her views” which endeared her to listeners and earned her the designation of a “negro agitator.” Davis managed to earn this distinction as she became known in intelligence circles for telling her listeners that the “…Negro should no longer bow down in suppression and segregation” but exert their “superiority.”85
Not only did the Bureau of Investigations (BI) and other secret service agencies note what Davis said to the public, they were also attentive to her private conversations as well. According to reports, it was alleged that Davis plotted with other UNIA officials to take over the organization from Garvey during late 1922 and early 1923. The BI also alleged that Davis and others in the Garvey’s inner circle were willing to testify on behalf of the U.S. government at his mail fraud trial.86 These assertions were contradicted by Davis’ show of unwavering loyalty to Garvey and the UNIA when she testified for his defense. According to Negro World records and historians of Garvey and the UNIA, at no time during before or immediately after the trial did Davis publicly or privately engage in any plot to take control of the organization. Time and again, historians note that Davis remained resolute in her allegiance to the UNIA while others walked away or sued the organization.
In her capacity of BSL second vice-president and UNIA International Organizer, Davis often travelled for the purpose of selling stock in the company and establishing branches of the UNIA throughout the Panama Canal Zone. On these trips her promotion of the UNIA’s program, her loyalty to Garvey and her penchant for racial progress was clearly illustrated. Allegations of mismanagement of funds were made by the Santiago Branch of the Panamanian Division causing Lady Davis to cable Marcus Garvey. She urged him to come to Santiago, warning that there was a danger of “somebody (being) lynched.” 87 Intervening on behalf of the organization in times of crisis to quell dissent became standard operating procedure for Lady Davis. Her intention to ensure the honesty of others and keep the organization afloat was demonstrated in the re-organization of the Kingston Branch of the UNIA in 1919. Between 1919 and 1920 Davis re-organized the Kingston Branch after “confiscating” the accounting books from the private offices of the pilfering branch president.88 The International Organizer also demonstrated a capacity for detecting areas of concern and protecting the UNIA. Whenever it became apparent that a particular Division was about to break away, Garvey sent Lady Davis to help bring the members back into the fold. She was not always successful, nor was her presence always well received.
The UNIA suffered from internal dissent from its 1919 incorporation until its dormant period in the late 1930s. In some cases, within weeks of a branch and division becoming chartered, movements for secession were afoot. In 1920, Garvey faced challenges from both the Philadelphia and Los Angeles Branches. At the time, Philadelphia boasted a large membership while the Los Angeles Division was just getting started. The controversies in Philadelphia were numerous, but the most significant point of contention surrounded the use and accounting of funds. In Los Angeles, less than a year after Davis had gone there to establish the branch and set up a unit of the Black Cross Nurse Auxiliary, newspaper woman and NAACP member Charlotta Bass, Lady President of the branch, officially formed the Pacific Coast Negro Improvement Association and broke all ties with the UNIA.89 Davis made concessions on behalf of the UNIA in both situations, and was successful in keeping Philadelphia in the ranks, despite “some criticism of and dissatisfaction…” among the membership who after over two weeks of her supervision began to grow weary but decided to have her remain until their reorganization process was completed.90 The UNIA branch in Philadelphia felt Lady Davis’ presence, albeit at the behest of Garvey himself, was tolerable. Davis demonstrated her ability as a “clever educated woman of more than average ability” and in 1932 Philadelphia welcomed her as one who worked on the behalf of the membership and not just as Garvey’s representative.91 She was not as successful in Los Angeles, where as previously noted, the division there formed its own version of the UNIA separate from the parent organization.
Lady Davis was signatory of many Division charters throughout the UNIA world, and her stamp of approval was sought by women and men of the organization at every opportunity. The women of the organization often deferred to her counsel and used her name and presence as a means of sanctioning their own agendas. Her involvement often led to the creation of spaces for women members to freely pursue the aims of the organization. These spaces often went undetected by Garvey or the male hierarchy and allowed women to interpret, extend and recreate UNIA aims in ways that best suited their local needs. An early example of this occurred with her involvement in establishing the Black Cross Nurse (BCN) Auxiliary as a part of every UNIA division. As International Organizer, she sought ways to gain support for the organization and found that encouraging women who worked as health care workers to join the auxiliary not only increased the membership numbers, but also served to help women formalize their professional and community service work.
Her efforts were extended with her participation in the development of the UNIA Ladies Day Exhibition in 1922. At the August 1922 Convention, the UNIA established its first “Ladies Day Exhibition” in part at the behest of Lady Davis and others. The exhibition was designed to celebrate the artistry and home made crafts of the female membership. Aside from showcasing the talents of members, the exhibition also served as a means for encouraging entrepreneurship and cooperatives among members.
The respect of both the male and female membership and the esteem of the organization’s officials for Davis’ contributions were further evidenced in the amending of the UNIA constitution in 1922 and the establishing of the Daughters of Ethiopia as a formal auxiliary of the UNIA in 1924. In each instance, Lady Davis was designated as the designated official to oversee and guide activities of the women of the organization. Similar to the 1922 coup, women delegates from Montréal Canada, Chicago, IL, Monograph, VA, petitioned in 1924 to have the Daughters of Ethiopia (DOE) adopted in the Constitutional By-Laws of the UNIA with Lady Davis as chairman. The auxiliary was comprised of women who were recently bestowed titles by Garvey for their service to the organization. The DOE now gave them a formal auxiliary to further their “burning desire to work for the good of the UNIA and ACL.” These activities gave testament to her status as a pillar in the organization and also points out the need for her inclusion in the historiography of the long freedom struggle, African-American women’s activism and Black Nationalism.92
Her interest in the heath and well being of African-Americans was also revealed in authoring a treatment entitled “The Social Policy of the Negro.” At the August 1922 Convention, Garvey asked Davis to open up a discussion geared toward defining a new social policy for African-Americans. Davis began by stating that “the matter (is) one of vital importance” as African-Americans “as a people (have) neglected the social side of life in many ways and paid very little attention to it.”93 Caught in the routine of daily life, “(t)he Negro was characteristically social, but, heretofore, there have been no policy as to his sociability.”94
Davis along with John Edward Bruce, Dr. Leroy Bundy, Robert L. Poston and Anna Nicholas of the New York Division were appointed as the Committee on Social Concerns. The Garvey appointed committee comprised a lady from the general membership and the only woman in the UNIA hierarchy along with three men. Their findings were printed in the Negro World on September 9, 1922 and stressed that
“The question is largely one of geography, i.e., no fixed rules can be established to guide the people of all sections. There are forms of courtesy among all people, and they are expressed in different ways, though they mean the same thing in the last analysis. We Negro[s] should establish our own social forms and strive to impress our young people with the idea that courtesy, clean speech, [sic] good character are all the hallmarks of true ladies and gentlemen. We still believe these are matters which can be safely left in the Christian homes of our race for final solution.95
While the document was presented as being authored by the collective, Davis was the second signer after Bruce. Based on the content of their previous literary collaborations, which centered on themes of redemption and transformation the sentiments expressed can be attributed to the thinking and feelings of Davis. Her express concern was the modeling of proper mores for the upcoming generation. Although she had no biological children of her own, Davis, as an efficient woman, used her talents to address what she regarded as the needs of others.
Although she had given up the stage, Davis found room in the UNIA for her training as a Shakespearean actor. She endeared herself to children and parents alike with her rendition of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “Little Brown Baby” and her use of African-American playing dolls as props which were produced by and in conjunction with the UNIA based Negro Factories Corporation.96 Davis praised the doll manufacturer, Berry and Ross for “…doing so much” to inculcate “the spirit of race pride in the Negro race” through the production of these dolls.”97 The promotion of African- American dolls, historian Michele Mitchell argues, was an integral part of the ways the UNIA sought to ensure that “young black girls would grow into women who (neither) shunned nor opted out of motherhood.”98 The dolls served to signal the importance of women as nurturers and spoke directly to the UNIA’s promotion of “racial purity and an acceptance of African roots as elements of children’s race pride.”99
Davis’ poetic recitation choice of “Little Brown Baby” reveals yet another strain of UNIA efficient womanhood in that the poem itself celebrates the role of fathers in the home and in their lives of their children. Nearly all of her undertakings as a UNIA official called for a network of both men and women.
The committee on Social Concerns was not Davis’ first endeavor as a UNIA official in cooperation with men, nor was it her last. Her role as BSL second vice president and board membership in the UNIA Black Cross Navigation and Trading Company (BCNTC) involved her in partnerships with men both inside and outside of the UNIA world. Under the watchful gaze of the Bureau of Investigations, she travelled with Cyril Henry in 1920 to sell and issue stock certificates for the BSL.100 After the BSL was dissolved and reconstituted in 1924, she was paired with Robert L. Poston and Attorney Milton Van Lowe to form the UNIA Delegation to Liberia. In her account of the trip, she alleged that President King promised her not only the land the trio was sent to negotiate for, but additional lands in Cape Mount, Liberia.101
The reception Lady Davis received throughout her travels was recounted by Amy Boaster of the Guatemala Puerto Banns Division, who wrote to the Negro World ensuring support from the region as “hundreds of Vinton Davises (were) ready to go out into the world.”102 These sentiments were seconded by another UNIA member who wrote after Davis visited Fort Wayne, Indiana “that even the very stones would rise to pledge there must be a redeemed Africa.”103 She appeared to have no less of an effect on President King of Liberia and the other dignitaries she met within the country. In fact, when Davis travelled to Liberia and Panama, she was afforded the courtesies reserved for foreign diplomats, with official guides and transportation.104
Davis faced a backlash, however, as a result of her success in raising funds for the BSL and her participation in the BCNTC. In her role as central fund raiser for the BSL, Davis faced the obvious humiliation when the BSL folded in 1922, and Garvey faced trial for fraud associated with the over selling of stocks. She also faced public hazing from the crew and operators of the ships, as the failure of the Black Star Line was linked in part to her not knowing “the first thing about a ship or the management of shipping business.”105 In a series of articles that ran in the communist Daily Worker newspaper during the latter half of 1930, Davis was criticized for her alleged misuse of BSL funds. Crew members of the BSL detailed accounts of Davis of “living high and buying up all the silk in Colon” while the crew went without food and pay and UNIA members had to beg for monies to help the ship return to the United States .106 Such stories were contradicted by depictions of her as sympathetic to the crew to the point of being dangerous to Garvey. In one account it was alleged that she took sick while on the ship as a result of deliberate food poisoning. The attempt on her life was claimed to have taken place, because
Ms. Davis was the only official, who displayed any sympathy towards the crew, and she took sick suddenly, the doctors claimed she was poisoned. It was whispered among the crew that Ms. Davis had been poisoned for fear that her sympathy for the crew would induce her to tell the truth of the sabotage and extravagance of the high officer[']s.107
There is no evidence to substantiate claims regarding the attempted poisoning. The conflicting depictions of Lady Davis by the crew are further complicated by claims that monies were collected at each port of call, and yet the BSL was never a solvent enterprise. While this financial situation became obvious by 1922, many still bought stock in the company. It appears that participation in the shipping company stock sales presented several avenues for resistance to Jim Crow and the limitations of prejudice. These sentiments outweighed any concerns about the BSL’s solvency. For many, the potential of owning stock in a shipping company that would remedy the poor segregates travelling accommodations, while enabling trade throughout the Diaspora and providing a means of ensuring wealth for future generations appeared to transcend the reality of stalled ships in New York’s harbor. Davis continued to support the purchasing of vessels and the sale of stock even as the ships were literally and figuratively sinking. 108
Although Garvey publicly deferred to her on matters pertaining to both the BSL and the BCNTC, it is surprising that researchers of the BSL have overlooked her role in the enterprise.109 Because Davis played an integral part in the collection of money and signed stock sale slips, she must carry some of the responsibility for the failure of the BSL. While Garvey was brought up on charges of overselling stock and using the U.S. Postal Service to solicit funds under false pretense, Davis was never indicted or officially question by the Bureau of Investigations for her part in the matter. UNIA members also appeared indifferent to her role as official records were silent on their feelings regarding her involvement. The demise of the BSL did not stop Garvey from attempting another shipping venture. Davis was also undeterred as she became one of the directors of the revamped enterprise. Although her persistence speaks of the depths of Davis’ commitment to repatriation and open trade with the African continent, the absence of self-critique or the critique of others on her culpability in these endeavors merits further investigation.
When it became apparent that the UNIA Liberian Delegation was not as successful as Robert Poston was led to believe, Garvey again deferred to Davis to render an accounting of the trip during the August 1924 convention. Davis, however, had not yet returned from a trip to British Honduras. Although Milton Van Lowe had given a report to the officials of the parent body earlier in the day, Garvey decided that he must “appeal to the patient convention until Lady Davis comes here, so that she and Mr. Van Lowe…” can render their report.
Garvey’s willingness to wait for Davis’ return reflected his trust and respect for her. Her consistent public defense of Garvey and the organization, even after her departure from the original UNIA, in speeches, newspapers and actions, combined with her insistence that all descendants of the transatlantic slave trade should work for the betterment of Africa and all its people earned her not only the respect of UNIA members and non-members alike, but also won her many comparisons to warriors and great spokesman. Of these, the most illustrative was her being dubbed the Negro Joan of Arc first in Latin America and then later by Garvey.110 By 1921 Henrietta Vinton Davis was affectionately referred to as Joan of Arc in Cuba, Panama and Harlem.111 For her untiring devotion to the UNIA and her resolute commitment to the programs Garvey pursued. The President-General first compared Davis to Joan of Arc while introducing her at the August 1920 Convention.112 Davis highlighted the urgency for African-American based business ownership to her audiences at every opportunity. Much like Joan of Arc, she combined her faith (in this case a belief that despite opposition, poor and/or limited funding and even broad based business acumen) with a militancy that electrified listeners.
In many of her speeches during the inter-war period, she reminded her audience of the valor of soldiers throughout the Diaspora and especially “…the brave black boys who fought for America and with their blood watered the tree of freedom in the vine-clad valleys and the snow-caped mountains of France.”113 She reminded the UNIA and non members in her audiences that “[T]he Negro has fought every battle but his own” and admonished them that the “…time has come, the time is at hand, the hour is near, and the Negro must fight for the Negro.”114 Reflecting the sentiments of the New Negro movement of the period, Davis called all of the people of the Diaspora to the cause of African redemption.
Henrietta Vinton Davis displayed a special sensitivity to African-American troops. She often reflected, as did many of her contemporaries, on how the descendants of African slaves were engaged to fight for imperial powers in World War I that sought to maintain control over African lands. Men who served on the battle fields of France, in particular, were held in high esteem in 1919. These soldiers became immortalized in the poetry of Ethel Trew Dunlap when she penned “He Sleeps in France’s Bosom.”115 Lady Davis capitalized on these feelings while serving as UNIA Convention Chair. In 1919 she included in her opening address:
the Negro has come into the ideal of his own solidity, the ideal of his own unity, no matter what country he may have been born in, no matter what flag may have floated over him, the Negro, although patriotic and loyal and faithful to all flags under which he has served, yet he feels the time has come when he must stand forth and ask, in fact he must demand his rights in this reconstructive period.116
For Davis, the Black Star Line, the Negro Factories Corporation and other UNIA programs were swords to be used in the battle against segregation to demonstrate the “organized determination for the general advancement of each and every one within the race.”117 In Davis’ words “each and everyone” meant both women and men. She complimented African-American women during the Washington D.C. race riots for their “fearlessness in the face of brutal and unprovoked attacks.”118 She was also mindful when relaying the “founding” story of the UNIA in New York to stress that it was “a few Negro men and women” who started the organization. She observed that after only two months in New York State the organization had “7,500 members [with] branches in 25 states… every Central American and West Indian country and on “the great continent of Africa.”119
Just like Joan of Arc’s valiant defense of Charles VII, Lady Davis staunchly defended Marcus Garvey and the UNIA. Although her official titles changed throughout her tenure in the UNIA, her role as UNIA protector/defender and Marcus Garvey advocate remained constant. The Bureau of Investigations labeled her an agitator for her support of Garvey. Her almost blind allegiance to Garvey, evidenced when she led efforts to quell dissension and confronted Garvey’s rivals in Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Cuba, was considered her one great flaw by her friends and critics alike.120 For her unquestioned loyalty and service, Garvey bestowed the title Lady Commander of the Sublime Order of the Nile in 1921. Davis as well as other UNIA officials had titles bestowed upon them, argues historian Edmund Cronon, as a “reward for past service to the race” that came with “added responsibility…”121 While Cronon is not specific on what the added responsibilities may have included for Lady Davis, she continued to press forward in expanding the goals and aims of the UNIA.
Her ability to extend the aims of the organization to help meet the needs of the membership was not only found in her work as BCN organizer, but also in her accessibility to the membership. At the 1922 Convention, the women of the organization took the floor on a late August afternoon near the end of the session to request changes in the constitution. Victoria Turner, a delegate from St. Louis began:
We, the women of the UNIA and African Communities League (ACL) know that no race can rise higher than its women. We need women in the important places of the organization to help refine and most public sentiment, realizing the colossal program of this great organization, and as we are determined to reclaim a homeland, Africa, we have resolved to submit the following recommendations:
1. That a woman be the head of the Black Cross Nurses and Motor Corps and have absolute control over those women that they shall not conflict with the (African) Legions.
2. That a woman be given more recognition by being placed on every committee, so that she may learn more of the salient workings of the various committees.
3. That more women be placed in the important offices and fieldwork of the Association.
4. That women be given initiative positions, so that they may formulate constructive plans to elevate our women.
5. That Lady Henrietta Vinton Davis be empowered to formulate plans with the sanction of the president general so that the Negro women, all over the world can function without restriction from the men.
The wording of the petition called attention to the realization that women were not often selected for positions of authority within the formal hierarchy. Lady Davis appeared to agree
with the women and reinforced their declaration by reminding readers of the Negro World in
If our men hesitate then the women of the race must come forward, they must join the great army of Amazons and follow a Joan of Arc who is willing to be burned at the stake to save her country. Africa must be saved!122
The results of the petition have been debated by historians as Garvey’s presence at the end of a nearly four and a half hour debate appeared to taint the original petition. When the amendments were put to a vote a watered down version of the petition was ratified. However, the discussion that ensued further revealed the intricacies of the lay membership and Lady Davis’ role.
Some of the women delegates found the idea of females on the frontlines as organizers and recruiters troublesome. Influenced by the images and rhetoric of respectability and Victorian Motherhood espoused by club women of the era, not all of the delegates were in favor of women traveling, particularly those living in the South, if “they wanted to maintain the respect of the men.”123 Still others from the Midwest and the North felt that “women were as competent as men to be field representatives” and were not in favor of “women standing behind and pushing the men.” They demanded that women “be placed in some executive positions” that would allow them to operate as field commissioners organizing women so that they could “put them to work.”124
The differences in opinion seemed to stem from the realities of life in the various regions of the Negro world. Garvey maintained that the UNIA was the only organization with a woman on its executive council and “that if there was any difference made in the local divisions…” it was the “fault of individuals” and not the express intent of the UNIA.125
By the end of the debate the resolution was amended so that women would be “encouraged to formulate plans” and that “women while functioning without restriction” would not be used to “mean a severance of the men from the women in the work of the organization.”126 The woman truly desired “to be at (the) side” of men working for the liberation of the race and in 1924 found yet another way to ensure that they had a space to do so.127 Three days before the close of the August 1924 UNIA Convention, Maymie DeMena, Davis’ protégé, begged the ear of the Convention on behalf of the women “who possess moral integrity, ability and a burning desire to work” for the “good of the UNIA and ACL.” She asked for the following:
Be it resolved that:
(a) The ladies of the royal court of Ethiopia becoming international auxiliary of the UNIA can be (encroached) as such in its constitution.
(b) Branches of the ladies of the royal court of Ethiopia, to be known as the daughters of Ethiopia, be established in each division.
(c) That the president general and high executive Council recommended a continuous expansion of the work heretofore done by the ladies of the royal court of Ethiopia. Along the lines formally pursue and along such lines as they making useful to the body at large.128
After some discussion the motion was seconded, and it was decided that Lady Davis would serve as chairman of a gender inclusive committee to draft the rules and regulations to govern the newly encumbered auxiliary.129
In both 1922 and 1924 the women waited until the near close of the convention to present their grievances and stratagems for resolving them. The timing of their action was a tactical measure and reveals the savvy of the lay membership. In the first instance Garvey was not on the Convention floor at the start of the Mrs. Turner’s pronouncement, and in the second instance Garvey’s trials dominated the convention and enabled the women to assert themselves without much opposition. Garvey was very aware of the membership’s displeasure with him and attempted to assuage their concerns. More significantly and heretofore never discussed, these exchanges speak of the need for sanctioning of the women by Lady Davis. In both ‘coups,’ the women were sure to include her at the helm in their assertions for written defined power within the organization. Her work and the work of others, already exemplified their power base as efficient women. Still the women sought explicit recognition of their many contributions to the organization. The examination of Lady Davis’ life only begins to unravel the intricacies of that work.
The convention delegates also used Davis to assuage Marcus Garvey. While the President General fell out of favor with various cadres of the membership at different points during Davis’ twelve-year tenure, their affinity for her, while not always constant, remained intact. Lady Davis was just as much Garvey’s emissary to the masses as she was theirs to him. At times, she became conflicted in her dual role as her efforts on behalf of the membership at times threatened to encroach upon her loyalty to Garvey. Although Garvey’s race pride and persistence had endeared him to Davis, her ultimate allegiance was to the UNIA and its programs, and this would lead to her departure from Garvey’s inner circle by 1931.
In 1923 Henrietta Vinton Davis served as witness for the defense in the trial of Marcus Garvey, Ely Garcia, George Tobias and Orlando M. Thompson for mail fraud.130 She also presented herself as an expert witness before the court in Belize in the estate case of Isaiah Morter. Her defense of the UNIA led to her being named in a law suit filed by former UNIA Potentate George O. Marke against the association’s land holdings in Kingston, Jamaica to recover unpaid salaries.131 In each legal proceeding, Lady Davis faced the challenge of serving the organization first or defending Garvey. Her decision was telling.
During Garvey’s trial, Lady Davis, presented a less than favorable picture of the man she compared to Fredrick Douglas and Chief Justice Dawson of the Liberian Supreme Court.132 Lady Davis’ curt responses that amount to a series of “I don’t know” and “I can not recall” resulted in her becoming a “…far better witness for the prosecution than for the defense.”133 While Garvey argued that the faults Davis revealed about him, proved that “(he) did not fix up any testimony” and that Davis merely “told what she knew.”134 Nevertheless, her testimony lacked the fire and enthusiasm which she exuded before audiences at UNIA meetings and rallies, where she encouraged patrons to “Stand by the UNIA! Stand by Marcus Garvey!” and warning nay-syers to “Beware ye stumbling blocks, for Marcus Garvey is coming!”135
By the time of her testimony in June 1923, Davis had already become aware of her salary suspension by Garvey.136 As the organization struggled to stay solvent, Garvey attempted to assuage criticisms from the lay membership by suspending the salaries of all officers. This was a tactic he had also employed at the August 1922 Convention when he tendered his resignation, and Lady Davis and others followed suit. Lady Davis was subsequently re-elected to office (as was Garvey) after a landslide victory over Buffalo, New York BCN organizer Lillian Wells.137 It appears that Lady Davis was not fazed by the 1922 ordeal as she continued to work feverishly for the UNIA and continued to encourage African-Americans to seize upon the “…this opportunity of showing to the world our ability…” as “ (i)t will never come back to us again.”
She implored the throngs gathered in Brooklyn, New York, St. Louis Missouri and Chattanooga Tennessee to “…resolve to fight and die for the great principles of …” the UNIA.138 She herself did no less.
The loss of “salary” in 1923 may have affected her testimony as monies she received over time from the UNIA add up to a paltry sum. In 1922 the salary for the Fourth Assistant President General was set at $2,000, which, according to historian and Garvey chronicler Robert Hill, the membership believed to be insufficient. Records indicate that in the course of twelve years Davis received far less salary than the calculated $16,000 to which she was entitled to.139 In fact, Lady Davis received only $275 in salary for 19 weeks of work as of March 29, 1926, another $230 while sailing on the maiden voyage of the SS Goethals and yet another paid $20 while on another organizing trip to British Honduras.140 How Lady Davis managed her daily expenses is unclear. That she was of a middle-class background implies that she may have had access to family monies to live off. On one of the poorly financed trips to the Caribbean, Lady Davis met Isaiah Mortar of Belize and signed the charter establishing the UNIA Branch in then British Honduras. Her involvement in this matter led to her testimony during his estate hearing and in part also led to her severing ties with Garvey.
Isaiah Morter was described by Garvey as “a cool, calculating type, a man unmoved by passing sentiment or wild emotion” that bequeathed “the bulk of his estate to the Universal Negro Improvement Association.”141 The British government disagreed with this characterization, and the colonial island government contested the provisions of Mr. Mortar’s will because Garvey and the UNIA were considered disruptive elements on the island. For her part, Davis’s testimony, much like her testimony at Garvey’s trial, served to protect the UNIA, spared her any personal liability, and further revealed the nature of her relationship with Garvey.
Under cross examination, Lady Davis declared “I do not subscribe to all the opinions of Marcus Garvey” and that his opinions did not reflect the opinions of “members of the UNIA as published.”142 Davis may have been attempting to rescue the UNIA from the scandals that plagued the organization after Garvey’s trial and she may have been attempting to remove the “Negro Agitator” from the minds of the court officials who would decide whether or not a half million dollar plot of land would be given over to the UNIA. Whatever her motives, there is no written record of any backlash from Garvey or his inner circle for her statements. That the bequest would have remedied many of the organization’s financial problems and provided the means to accomplishing many of the aims of the UNIA appears to have weighed heavily on Davis. By 1926 the UNIA had already begun to transcend Garvey, the man and the myth, and Davis’ comments merely voiced that shift.
In both trials Lady Davis gave testimony on the mission of the UNIA, her relationship with Marcus Garvey, and monies spent and collected. Davis presented a most specific description of her interactions with the UNIA and Marcus Garvey as separate and distinct relationships. In the case of George O. Marke vs. The Universal Negro Improvement Association, she did not have the same opportunities. In Marke’s suit for back pay, Davis was never called as a witness. By the time the dust cleared, only Garvey and Davis remained “…to reimburse the people” and “…to carry on the work of the organization…”143
To ensure that the work continued, Lady Davis invested time in the talents of others. To that end, she became mentor to Maymie Leona Turpeau De Mena of Nicaragua, who would serve as Assistant International Organizer of the UNIA in 1926, Fourth Assistant President General in 1927, and Officer in Charge of the American Field in 1930. Throughout her time with the organization, which lasted until her death in 1953, De Mena served as a translator on tours of the Spanish speaking Caribbean, maintained a close correspondence with Garvey while he was in prison writing to him from places as far apart as Cincinnati, Ohio and Mobile, Alabama.144 De Mena visited Garvey while he was imprisoned at the Atlanta Penitentiary and was credited with recruiting members as well as invigorating the lay membership with a cadre of new and younger persons. Her travels, just like those of Davis, came under close scrutiny by the United States and British Colonial governments. While Davis, according to British Military Reports boasted that she “…had some very influential friends in Washington who aided…” her in obtaining a passport when the U.S. government had declined to give her one, De Mena had to be a little more clever.145
Historian Robert Hill documented the travels of Maymie De Mena in and out of the United States and noticed that on her passports, her nationality changed over time. At times she presented herself as white of Spanish descent, at others as simply a West Indian on her British passport.146 This was done for political expediency and not because Madame De Mena, as she became known for her “distinguished, selfless…” commitment to the UNIA, had any misgivings about her identity or alliances.147 In fact, her commitment to the organization can be measured along the same lines as that of Davis, as both women selected husbands who they believed shared their love of race progress and were willing to work for it, both women separated from their husbands when the conditions of the relationship would no longer support their work, and both women invoked a militant persona in the promotion of the UNIA program and Garvey.
As Davis got older she developed health concerns that sometimes limited her ability to travel as she once did. In keeping with her commitment to fostering the progress of the race, she had begun to groom Maymie De Mena to assist when she was not physically able. Madame De Mena’s place next to “The Negro Joan of Arc,” was made apparent for all to see during the 1929 UNIA of the World Inc, August Convention. Madame De Mena led the parade on “…a white charger with drawn sword,” through Edelweiss Park in Kingston, Jamaica before a crowd of spectators said to only rival “the exhibition marking the celebration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897.”148 A new Queen of sorts was crowned that day, as the display solidified De Mena’s place in the UNIA. Davis and De Mena differed in that De Mena was the mother of one daughter.149 She managed to travel the world on behalf of the UNIA with a teenager in tow. In fact her daughter Bertina, was one of the first graduates of the UNIA’s Liberty University (an school for students of all ages) in Virginia.150 Here the UNIA efficient womanhood truly comes full circle as Bertina extended the activist work of her mother and the UNIA women throughout her life.
When Henrietta Vinton Davis and the other original UNIA officials took their oath of office in 1919 they solemnly swore,
… in pledge before Almighty God and this convention here assembled that our will, to the best of my ability and was true devotion, served the UNIA and the Negro peoples of the world. The interest of this association shall in all my public duties come first to me, and, should I fail his course, may the almighty architect fail me in the course of life being in full possession of my senses and knowing full well the penalty of treachery, disloyalty and deceit,…151
She took these words literally and adhered to them strictly. As Fourth president General she filled the role of UNIA defender, protector and Marcus Garvey advocate. Her endeavors, although not always appreciated as previously noted, garnered her much respect and adulation from the UNIA hierarchy, Garvey’s wives, the lay membership and for the most part, from Garvey himself. This adulation, however, was not sufficient to keep her loyal to the reconstituted UNIA Garvey established in 1929.
In 1930 Davis made one last attempt to re-unite the membership of the UNIA, when she met with William Ware, President of the Cincinnati Division and Garvey’s legal nemesis at that time. The organization remained embroiled in legal proceedings with the Belizean courts over the estate of Isaiah Morter that would not be favorably resolved until 1939, when the American based UNIA was given the rights to the land by the British Supreme Court.152 At the time, the UNIA, headquartered in New York, was the recognized defendant in the case against the colonial government which attempted to block their acquisition of the land. When Garvey maintained that the headquarters of the organization was wherever he resided, Davs had some choices to make. As late as November 1930, she was listed as Secretary General under Garvey in a letter to His Imperial Majesty Haille Selassie. She also used her name to assist Garvey in purchasing a printing press in Jamaica to start the short lived Black Man Magazine. Lady Davis ended her friendship and affiliation with Marcus Garvey in August 1931 over his disloyalty to her. Davis’ departure was met with silence by Garvey.
The editor of the Negro World (published by a faction still loyal to Garvey) ran an editorial on August 15, 1931 and September, 19, 1931 asking Garvey to select new leadership as the “feminine hands” at the helm were a bit too delicate to tussle with the various attacks from within and without. Maymie De Mena, Garvey’s “Officer in Charge of the American Field,” became enraged by this. She was disappointed with Davis for visiting with William Ware as she found it gave an appearance of disloyalty to Garvey. Davis’ silence in response to the Negro World article only strained things further between the two. As she had proven in the past, Davis was ultimately most loyal to the UNIA itself. On December 21, 1931 William Ware wrote to the U.S. government stating that “…Lady Henrietta Vinton Davis” is one of two “national officers of the American Corporation” who can “verify our statements…”153 She remained loyal to the UNIA until her death on November 23, 1941.
Lady Davis outlived Marcus Garvey by eighteen months. Unfortunately, while her UNIA peers had declared that “…when the history of this giant movement” is written, her name would be “…emblazoned in letters of gold as the lady, the stateswoman and the diplomat” the bullion has yet to be melted.154
1 Martin, Amy Ashwood, (2007); Taylor, Amy Jacques Garvey, (2002).
2 AFRC, AP; prison visits or records, AFRC, AP January 16, 1926; J8, 515 (D.) D.: I.: O: 22/28. TLS, recipients
3 Daily Gleaner, November 1, 1927 November 3, 1927, November 4, 1927, November 14, 1927.
4 Daily Gleaner, December 8, 1927 & December 10, 1927; New York Times December 27, 1927; Detective
Inspector’s office, Kingston, Jamaica, JA, 515 [V.]/D.: I.: O.: 36/27.
5 Daily Gleaner, January 8, 1933.
6 Negro World, August 20, 1921; “Negro Joan of Arc”
7 The Washington Bee, April 28, 1883, 3; May 5, 1883, 3. The People’s Advocate (Washington), April 28, 1883, 3;
John E. Bruce Papers, Schomburg Collection, New York Public Library, Group D, BMS 11-21.
8John E. Bruce Papers, Schomburg Collection, New York Public Library, Group D, BMS 11-21.; For more Davis
early life please see Seraille, pp. 13-15.
9 John E. Bruce Papers Our old Kentucky home. (1898) Sc Micro R-905
Reel #3, Schomburg Collection, New York Public Library.
10 Stein, The World of Marcus Garvey, p. 76.
11 LaVerne Grant, “Amy Jacques Garvey and Henrietta Davis” in ed. J. L. Conyers Black American Intellectualism
and Culture: A Social Study of African-American Social and Political Thought Cotemporary Studies in Sociology
(Stamford, Conn.: JAI Press, 1999), p. 29.
12 Graham, Baltimore: The Nineteenth Century Black Capital (Washington: University Press of America, 1982), pp.
13 For greater detail on George Alexander Hackett see Leroy Graham Baltimore: The Nineteenth Century Black
Capital (Washington: University Press of America, 1982), pp. 147-198.
14 Laverne Gyant “Amy Jacques Garvey and Henrietta Davis” p. 32; William Seraille, “Henrietta Vinton Davis and
The Garvey Movement” in fro-Americans in New York Life and History (July, 1982), p. 9.
15 New York Age, September 19, 1891.
16 John Edward Bruce Papers Group A, MMS 155, Bruce Papers.
17 Judith Stien’s term. Used throughout her monograph to describe the group of middle class elites she argued
dominated the UNIA’s membership.
18 Garvey and Dubois engaged in an open battle via the Crisis and the Negro World; Gynat, pp. 32-33.
19 Robin D. G. Kelley “We Are Not What We Seem”: Rethinking Black Working-Class Opposition in the Jim Crow
South.” The Journal of American History, Vol. 80, No. 1 (Jun., 1993), pp. 75-112; Sterling Stuckey The Ideological
Origins of Black Nationalism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1972); Sterling Stuckey Slave Culture: Nationalist Theory and
the Foundations of Black America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987); Cary D. Wintz Black Culture and
the Harlem Renaissance (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1996).
20 Robin D. G. Kelley “We Are Not What We Seem”: Rethinking Black Working-Class Opposition in the Jim Crow
South.” The Journal of American History vol. 80 no. 1 (Jun., 1993), p. 78.
21 Negro World, September 23, 1922.
22 Negro World, August 5, 1922.
23 Negro World, October 11, 1919.
24 Negro World, October 3, 1919.
25 Negro World, July 7, 1923.
26 Tony Martin Literary Garveyism: Garvey, Black Arts and the Harlem Renaissance (Massachusetts: The Majority
Press, 1983), p. 55.
27 Negro World, December 9, 1922.
28 For more on Zora Neale Hurston’s life and work please see Tiffany Ruby Patterson Zora Neale Hurston and a
history of southern life (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2005); Valerie Boyd Wrapped In Rainbows (New
York : Scribner, 2003); Diana Miles Women, violence & testimony in the works of Zora Neale Hurston (New York :
P. Lang, 2003); Deborah G. Plant Every Tub Must Sit On Its Own Bottom(Urbana : University of Illinois Press,
1995); Zora! : Zora Neale Hurston, a woman and her community ed. N.Y. Nathiri (Orlando, [Fla.] : Sentinel
Communications Co., 1991)
29Tony Martin, African fundamentalism : a literary and cultural anthology of Garvey’s Harlem Renaissance
(Dover, Mass. : Majority Press, 1991), p. 27.
30 For more on letters written to Hurston by the lay membership please see Tony Martin, Literary Garveyism
(Dover, Mass.: Majority Press, 1983), pp. 20-33.
31 Negro World, April 15, 1922.
32 James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection, Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library, Yale University,
Box 1, Folder 16.
33 Both men were sentenced to 18 to 20 years in prison two months before Garvey received his sentence.
34 For more on Carl Van Vechten’s role in the Harlem Renaissance and support of Hurston, Langston Hughes,
Richard Wright and others see Remember me to Harlem : the letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten ed.
Emily Bernard (New York : Knopf, 2001); Leon Coleman Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissance : a
critical assessment (New York : Garland, 1998).
35 Romare Bearden and, Harry Henderson A History of African-American Artists From 1792 to the Present (New
York:Pantheon Books (Random House), 1993), pp. 168-170.
36 New York World May 20, 1923.
37 Theresa Leininger-Miller New Negro artists in Paris: African-American painters and sculptors in the city of light,
1922-1934 (New Brunswick, NJ : Rutgers University Press, 2001), p. 174.
38 Negro World, May 5, 1923.
39 Fire!! Was published in 1926 by Langston Hughes, Wallace Thurman, Zora Neale Hurston, Aaron Douglas and
Richard Bruce Nugent. The magazines were sold for one dollar a piece and never generated enough monies to cover
the cost of printing. It was illustrated by Aaron Douglas and Richard Bruce Nugent.
40 Robert L. Poston was a Tennessee journalist and Howard University graduate. He became a newspaper publisher
and editor while in Detroit Michigan. He moved to NY in 1921 and was elected assistant Secretary-General of the
UNIA, and then was promoted to Secretary-General in 1922. He and his brother Ulysses served as associate editors
of the Negro World,. The brothers co-directed the UNIA’s dramatic club in the play “Tallaboo.” Through his death
UNIA members believe that the biblical prophecy. “Princes shall come out of Egypt, Ethiopia shall soon stretch
forth her hands unto God” was believed to then be fulfilled.
41 Precious Duncan Papers “UNIA 1924 Convention Bulletin” Gainesville, FL.
42 Theresa Leininger-Miller New Negro artists in Paris: African-American painters and sculptors in the city of light,
1922-1934 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001), p.172.
43 Ibid., p. 172.
44 Ibid., p. 180.
45 Rosalyn Terborg-Penn ,“DISCONTENTED BLACK FEMINISTS: Prelude and Postscript to the Passage of the
Nineteenth Amendment” in edts. Jacqueline Bobo, Cynthia Hudley et. al., The Black Studies Reader (New York:
Routledge, 2004), p. 72.
46 Ibid, p. 72.
47 Ibid, p. 73; Terborg-Penn noted that Church Terrell wrote to Jane Adams and alleged that racism was behind the
accusations made and offers to resign her position as a formal investigation rendered no evidence of guilt on the part
of the troops. Terrell tells Adams, “The troops, from French colonies in Africa, were victims, Terrell contended, of
American propaganda against Black people.” p. 73
48 Savage is unable to save the money to make the trip to France as her brother, a World War I veteran dies while
trying to assist during the Florida Hurricane of 1927. Her family moves from Florida to live with her in a small
Harlem apartment. The following year her father passes. She ends up using the monies she saved to bury him. It
was not until 1929 that she is awarded monies by Julius Rosenwald of the Sears and Roebuck Company that enable
her to make the trip to Europe.
49 Penn, I. Garland, and Frederick Douglass. The Afro-American Press and Its Editors (Springfield, Mass: Willey &
Co. 1891), p. 565.;Thomas T. Symmons managed the Bohemia Dramatic Club and arranged for Davis to appear at
the Whitney Opera House in Detroit in April of 1894. Symmons was engaged to Davis in early 1894. (New York
Globe, March 29, 1894) He planned to take his dramatic company on tour with Davis as leading lady. However,
present research indicates that the tour never came to fruition.
50 New York Globe, April 26, 1884.
51 Interview with Davis biographer and family friend Nnamdi Azikiwe, August 13, 2008.
52Daily Gleaner, May 2, 1912.
53 New York Globe, May 3, 1884 “Our Dramatic Artists.”
54 Erroll Hill, “Henrietta Vinton Davis: Shakespearean Actress” in Women in American Theater eds. Helen Chinoy
and Linda Walsh (New York: Crown Publishers, 1981), p. 92.
55 Seraille, p.14; John Edward Bruce Papers Group A, MMS 155, Bruce Papers.
56 Davis to Bruce, April 30, 1916, Group A, MMS 155, Bruce Papers.
57 For more on Dr. Cooper please see Anna Julia Cooper A Voice from the South (New York: Oxford University
58 For more on Ida B. Wells’ involvement with African-American self-help organizations please see James West
Davidson They Say: Ida B Wells and the Reconstruction of Race (New York : Oxford University Press, 2007).
59 Davis to Donnelly, July, 12, 1892, Ignatius Donnelly Papers, Archive and Manuscript Division of the Minnesota
Historical Society roll 104, frame 74-75.
60 Donnelly Papers ibid; Donnelly, Ignatius as Edmund Boisgilbert. Doctor Huguet (Chicago: F.J. Schutle 1891).
61 Cleveland Gazette April 24, 1886 “Miss Henrietta Vinton Davis, TRAGEDINE”, p.1
62 Errol Hill, A History of the American Theater, p. 138.
63 William Edgar Easton, Dessalines, a dramatic tale : a single chapter from Haiti’s history (JW Burson Company
Publishers 1893). The play was performed at the Haitian Pavilion of the Chicago World’s Fair.
64Marie-Agnès Sourieau et Kathleen M. Balutansky, Écrire en pays assiégé = Writing under siege: Haïti.
(Amsterdam; New York, N.Y.: Rodopi, c2004), p. 138.
65 Dessalines, pp. 90-91.
66 Dessalines, p. 102.
67 Dessalines, p. 117.
68 John Edward Bruce, Our Old Kentucky Home in the John Edward Bruce Papers Reel 3 (Schomburg Library, NY,
69 Bruce and Davis, Our Old Kentucky Home, p. 13.
70 Bruce and Davis, Our Old Kentucky Home, p. 40.
71 Phyllis Wheatley “On Being Brought from Africa” 1778.
72 Dessalines, pp. 65-68; Our Old Kentucky Home, pp. 16-18, 46-47.
73 Dessalines, p. 68; Our Old Kentucky Home, p. 39.
74 Our Old Kentucky Home, p. 15.
75 Errol Hill, “Henrietta Vinton Davis”, p. 96.
76 Buffalo Sunday Truth, n. d. 1894.
77 Dessalines, pp. 21-22.
78 Errol Hill, “Henrietta Vinton Davis”, p. 96; See Davis’ comments to Bruce mentioned earlier in text.
79 Ibid, p. 97.
80 Colored American, February 22, 1902.
81 Negro World, August 24, 1929.
82 Negro World, September 6, 1924.
83 Davis leaves the UNIA after an August 15, 1931 editorial by Negro World, editor H.G. Mudgal complained that
the American leadership of the now UNIA & ACL August 1929 of the World, was not being managed well by
“feminine hands” and in need of a stronger leadership. The leadership at the time included Davis’ protégé Maymie
De Mena and Davis herself. Garvey made no public comment on Davis’ departure and there are no archival records
of her making any statements on the matter either.
84 New York Age, August 13, 1932, 1; August 20, 1932, 1; August 27, 1932, 1; May 5, 1934, 1; August 18, 1934, 9;
October 13, 1934, 3. Norfolk Journal & Guide, September 1, 1934, 5.
85 DJ-FBI, file 61. TD; DNA, RG 59, File 000-612, TD.; DJ- FBI, file 61 –746, TD.
86 DJ- FBI, 561, TD; DJ_FBI, file 61—50—395. TD; DJ- file 61. TD.
87 Negro World, July 30, 1921.
88 JA file 12185 April 24, 1920; The Jamaica Gleaner, February 10, 1920, April 21, 1920, April 23, 1920; Jamaica
Times, July 24, 1920.
89 Emory Tolbert, The UNIA and Black Los Angeles: ideology and community in the American Garvey movement
(Los Angeles: Center for Afro-American Studies, University of California, 1980), pp. 63-69 & 76-79.
90 DNA RG 65, file OG 329359. TD, Stamped Endorsements.
91 DNA, RG 65, file OG 267600. TD.
92 Negro World, September 6, 1924.
93 Negro World, September 2, 1922.
95 Negro World, September 9, 1922.
96 Negro World, June 21, 1919; “Little Brown Baby” in edt, Joanne M. Braxton The Collected Poetry of Paul
Laurence Dunbar (Alexandria: The University Press of Virginia, 1993), p. 134.; Michele Mitchell, Righteous
Propagation: African-Americans and the politics of racial destiny after Reconstruction (Chapel Hill : University of
North Carolina Press, 2004), pp. 187-196; An in-depth discussion on the history of African-American based dolls is
done by Anthropologist Sabrina Lynette Thomas in “Sara Lee: The Rise and Fall of the Ultimate Negro Doll”
Transforming Anthropology Apr. 2007, Vol. 15, No. 1: pp. 38-49.
97 Negro World, June 28, 1919.
98 Mitchell, p. 194.
99 Sabrina Lynette Thomas “Black Dolls as Racial Uplift: A Preliminary Report” Transforming Anthropology. Apr
2005, Vol. 13, No. 1: p. 56.
100 DJ-FBI, 561 –157. TDS, Recipients copy;
101 Negro World, September 6, 1924. Sundiata, p.33; Seraille, p. 15.
102 Letter to the Editor, n.d. from women of Guatemala, Puerto Banns Division No. 34, Los Amates Division No.
212 signed by Amy Boaster, Emily Chandler and Caroline Grey Negro World, February 18, 1922.
103 Negro World, July 22, 1922, 5. These sentiments are also expressed in the Negro World, on April 22, 1922, 8;
May 6, 1922, 22; May 20, 1922, 3; For further discussion of the UNIA in the Panama Canal Zone please see Carla
Burnett “”Are we slaves or free men?”: Labor, race, Garveyism, and the 1920 Panama Canal Strike” Unpublished
Dissertation (Illinois: University of Illinois at Chicago, 2004).
104 Negro World, July 15, 1922, 12; Hill, vol. 4 p. xii.
105 “Account of Black Star Line by Cpt. Hugh Mulzac” Cleveland Gazette October 6-27, 1924.
106 Daily Worker, November, 1, 1930 & August 4, 1930.
107 Daily Worker, November 4, 1930.
108 Seraille, p. 19; Yekutiel Gershoni “Common goals, different ways: The UNIA and the NCBWA in West Africa -
1920-1930” Journal of Third World Studies Fall 2001.
109 For further insights on the BSL please see Ramla Marie Bandele “Diaspora movements in the international
political economy: African-Americans and the Black Star Line.” (Unpublished Dissertation Illinois: Northwestern
110 Joan of Arc was a French woman who claimed she was guided by visions of God that motivated her in battle
against the English during the Hundred Years War. She ignored the apprehensions of French commanders and led a
siege that ultimately resulted in the crowing of Charles VII. On May 16, 1920 Joan of Arc was canonized by the
Catholic Church for her work.
111 Negro World, February 12, 1921, May 7, 1921; June 4, 1921; July 2, 1921.
112 For more details on the life of Joan of Arc please see Mary Gordon Joan of Arc (New York: Viking, 2000); Joan
of Arc was canonized in 1920 and her story was widely publicized in Newspapers of the period.
113 Negro World, June 28, 1919 * She also comments in the same speech on the “Jamaican Negro Troops who
volunteered for the war, and who (with) their charges over the hot Palestinian desserts and up the Mesopotamian
Mountains made it possible for the Jewish dream of a restored Jerusalem to become a reality.”; Universal Negro
Improvement Association Convention August 25, 1919 reprinted in the Negro World.
114 Negro World, June 14, 1919, June 28, 1919, October 3, 1919 October 11, 1919, July 4, January 23, 1922,
February 4, 1922, September 9, 1922, September 6, 1924 ; Universal Negro Improvement Association Convention
August 25, 1919; Favorite Magazine, July 4, 1920; Chattanooga News, August 6, 1927; Chattanooga Times,
August 6-8, 1927; DNA, RG 65, file BS 198940. TD. Copies sent to Washington, DC, Chicago and New York; DJFBI,
File 61 –746. TD.; DNA, RG, file OG 374877.
115 See Appendix A.
117 Negro World, October 11, 1919.
118 Negro World, July 27, 1919.
119 Negro World, October 11, 1919.
120 Letter from Davis to George Myers January 26, 1899 in the George Meyer Papers (Columbus: Ohio Historical
Center Archives Library).
121 Edmund Cronon, Black Moses: the Story of Marcus and the Universal Negro Improvement Association
(Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969), p. 69.
122 Negro World, October 17, 1925.
123 Mrs. Robinson of New Orleans Afternoon Session “The Unity of Our Women” Negro World, August 30, 1922.
124 Mrs. Willis of New York Negro World, August 30, 1922; Mrs. Morgan of Chicago, Negro World, August 30,
127 Mrs Hall of Chicago, Negro World, September 6, 1924.
128 Negro World, September 6, 1924.
130 Marcus Garvey _v._ United States, no. 8317, Court of Appeals, 2d Circuit, 2 February 1925.
131 Marke, GO vs. UNIA, Inc. Kingston, Jamaica August 13, 1929.
132 Negro World, April 21, 1928; Negro World, September 6, 1924
133 Kansas City Call, June 22, 1923.
134 “Closing Address to the Jury by Marcus Garvey” Negro World, June 23, 1923; Reprinted in Philosophy and
Opinions edt. Amy Jacques Garvey vol. 2: 182-216.
135 Negro World, February 4, 1922; DJ-FBI, file 61 —746. TD.
136 Negro World, August 26, 1922.
137 Negro World, September 2, 1922.
138 Negro World, January 24, 1922; Chattanooga Times, August 8, 1927
139 In her testimony at the Mortar trial Davis states that the convention voted her a salary of $6,000.00. This amount
was considerably higher than the salaries voted for men in the hierarchy, including Garvey. It was decided that there
would be a salary scale increase for all officials and if Davis were granted the pay proposed by the lay membership
the scale would become disproportionately skewed.
140 Negro World, March 29, 1926; Negro World, April 10, 1924; Mortar Case Exhibit D.
141 Negro World, August 9, 1924.
142 Negro World, April 10, 1926.
143 Negro World, August 23, 1924.
144 Hill, Marcus Garvey and the UNIA Papers, v. 6. p. 116.
145 DNA, RG 165, file 10218-362-16. TD, Recipient’s Copy.
146 Hill, v. 6, pp. 117-118.
147 Winston James Holding Aloft The Banner of Ethiopia (London; New York: Verso, 1999), p. 196.
148 Hill, v. 7, p. 23.
149 Hill, v. 6, p. 118.
150 Barbara Bair “Renegotiating Liberty”, p. 222.
151 Negro World, September 9, 1922.
152 Hill, Life and Lessons, p. 384.
153 DNA, RG 59, File 811.108G191/61.
154 Negro World, August 20, 1921.