World War I kindled a new spirit of militancy. The East St. Louis riot of 1917 inspired a widely publicized Silent Protest Parade on New York’s Fifth Avenue in which 10,000 blacks silently carried placards reading, “Mr. President, Why Not Make America Safe for Democracy?” In the new densely populated black ghettos of the North, widespread support emerged for the Universal Negro Improvement Association, a movement for African independence and black self-reliance launched by Marcus Garvey, a recent immigrant from Jamaica. Freedom for Garveyites meant national self-determination.

The silent parade down Fifth Avenue, July 28, 1917, in which 10,000 black marchers protested the East St. Louis race riot.

Blacks, they insisted, should enjoy the same internationally recognized identity enjoyed by other peoples in the aftermath of the war. “Everywhere we hear the cry of freedom,” Garvey proclaimed in 1921. “We desire a freedom that will lift us to the common standard of all men,... freedom that will give us a chance and opportunity to rise to the fullest of our ambition and that we cannot get in countries where other men rule and dominate.” Du Bois and other established black leaders viewed Garvey as little more than a demagogue. They applauded when the government deported him after a conviction for mail fraud. But the massive following his movement achieved testified to the sense of betrayal that had been kindled in black communities during and after the war.

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