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Black Star

Black Star: African American Activism in the International Political Economy

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Black Star
    Book Description:

    This book describes how the first African American mass political organization was able to gain support from throughout the African diaspora to finance the Black Star Line, a black merchant marine that would form the basis of an enclave economy after World War I. Understanding the African diaspora to have three political factors--the homeland, the host countries, and the emigres who settle in those host countries--this study examines how external factors influence political activity within this triadic network._x000B__x000B_Constructing a conceptual model for this study, Ramla M. Bandele explores the concept of diaspora itself and how it has been applied to the study of emigre and other ethnic networks. In characterizing the historical and political context of the Black Star Line, she analyzes the international political economy during 1919-25 and considers the black politics of the era, focusing particularly on Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association for its creation of the Black Star Line. She offers an in-depth case study of the Black Star Line as an instance of the African diaspora attempting to link communities and carry out a transnational political and economic project. Arguing that ethnic networks can be legitimate actors in international politics and economics, Bandele also suggests, however, that activists in any given diaspora do not always function as a unit.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09045-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. 1 A New Take on an Old Term: Operationalizing the Diaspora Concept
    (pp. 1-12)

    For many students of African American politics, the African diaspora is a paradox.¹ On the one hand, a careful researcher can find many instances of political activity between African-descended populations situated outside of Africa. But on the other hand, there is no single African country with which to associate the diaspora. There is no specific language, religion, or culture to assign the African diaspora—attributes which normally signify a diaspora. In order to clearly focus on this phenomenon, one must move away from the rigid and passé definitions of diaspora. The diaspora concept has cogent possibilities as a model that...

  6. 2 An Exploration of the Relevant Literature
    (pp. 13-41)

    There is a plethora of studies on the diaspora concept from different perspectives. Most of those that influenced my study are of historic origin, but there are a few from the political science discipline. Because my emphasis is on political activism, the voluminous literature on cultural aspects of diasporas is not elaborated on in this work.¹ This chapter also explores the literature on the Black Star Line and its parent company, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).

    One of the best studies that looked at the diaspora concept as a research model was conducted by historian Kim Butler. Her epistemological...

  7. 3 Still Waters: Understanding the Political Economy of the 1920s
    (pp. 42-55)

    To understand the creation and development of the Black Star Line, it is necessary to look at the international political economy¹ of the era in which it functioned. Doing so contextualizes the study and assists in our understanding of some critical choices made by the BSL board of directors and its parent organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association, and its principal leader in the era, Marcus Garvey.

    The shipping line functioned from 1919 to 1921, and it was discontinued in early 1922. During this era, three nation-states, the United States, Great Britain, and Russia, ultimately shaped the global economy, and...

  8. 4 Home Dock: The United States and the BSL
    (pp. 56-74)

    For many reasons, the politics and economic positions of the United States are important to this study. First, it is in the United States that the Black Star Line was launched. At the time, the U.S. economy was the rising industrial power in the world. As a result, it was in the United States that workers had the best opportunity to make stable wages. This was true for the black population, both native born and Afro-Caribbeans; and thus it is arguably the primary place where blacks could consistently buy stock for the Black Star Line. It is also the United...

  9. 5 Charting the Black Atlantic: The UNIA and Its Location in African American Politics
    (pp. 75-99)

    Now we will survey the politics of the African diaspora, finally focusing upon the UNIA, the parent organization of the BSL. This discussion examines the UNIA’s purpose and organizational structure, especially how it linked with and functioned in the African diaspora. This highlights how, with limited resources, the UNIA was able to finance and launch a shipping enterprise. This will be followed by the case study of the BSL, including its inception, structure, and performance. Contentiousness surrounded the project, even as it was embraced throughout the diaspora and parts of Africa. In the following chapter, I probe the case study,...

  10. 6 Shipping Politics: The Case of the Black Star Line
    (pp. 100-122)

    Up to this point, this book has been setting the stage for the UNIA’s effort to launch a race-based shipping line that would connect the diaspora both politically and economically, and then link the diaspora to its homeland, focusing specifically on Liberia. Readers are now prepared to examine whether diaspora theory conjoined to a political economy approach facilitates a more clear understanding of how blacks practice transnational politics within the African diaspora. Thus, this chapter is not only a historical digest of a UNIA program, but an example of how a resource-deprived group can participate in transnational politics, even though...

  11. 7 Stormy Seas: Government Obstruction of BSL Transnational Goals
    (pp. 123-131)

    Purchasing a ship through the shipping board minimized the deceptive selling practices the BSL had experienced in the private market. Tedious USSB bureaucratic processing delayed procurement, however. Any ship purchase had to be approved by several departments, including the ship sales division, the legal department, the insurance department, and finally the board of directors. Further, given the BSL’s financial history, the USSB also demanded financial reassurance before finalizing the transaction. These conditions put additional pressure on the BSL because they had to make the down payment on a $350,000 vessel, pay for a performance bond, provide insurance, and be prepared...

  12. 8 Marooned: The Rise and Fall of the Black Star Line
    (pp. 132-162)

    The Black Star Line’s performance can also be evaluated as a diaspora project designed to ameliorate political and economic problems. Sheffer highlights characteristics that I found useful for analyzing this venture: ideologies, political structure, financial base, education/skill levels, mobilization strategies, channels of influence, and impact upon international political arena. Close consideration will be given to the advantages and disadvantages of each attribute in light of the international political economy operating in the era. The UNIA’s actions regarding each attribute can be integrated and organized to see what the UNIA did that led to the rise of the Black Star Line,...

  13. 9 Clear Waters: Implications for the Study of Diasporas
    (pp. 163-176)

    What does the Black Star Line tell us about diasporas and their political possibilities? First, it demonstrates that there is and has been an African diaspora operating politically. Even as ephemeral as the BSL effort was, it impacted politics in the Caribbean region and gave colonial powers pause in West Africa. For the United States, it raised concern about the safety of the Canal Zone and exacerbated its relations with Great Britain.

    The example of the Black Star Line suggests that inadequate resources do not necessarily preclude liminal diasporas from being effective actors in the international arena. It is this...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 177-186)

    The diaspora concept has been used successfully in cultural and historical research. One purpose of this study has been to determine if the diaspora concept is applicable in political economy studies of transnational politics, particularly by African diaspora activists. Gabriel Sheffer et al., J. A. Armstrong, and Ron Walters have looked at its applicability to political science.¹ The study edited by Sheffer included a useful political science definition of a diaspora and structural inputs for the development of a workable paradigm. Diaspora networks, according to Sheffer and Walters, can influence international politics. Though many of the findings demonstrating the applicability...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 187-210)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-220)
  17. Index
    (pp. 221-230)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 231-232)