Testing Boundaries The NAACP and the Caribbean, 1910–1930
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in New York City in 1909 in order to advocate for African American equality and opportunity. Founding member W.E.B. Du Bois urged the NAACP to also explore the possibility of becoming an international organization that would seek the “advancement of colored people” around the globe. During the 1910s and 1920s, the NAACP initiated several efforts to extend its work, and the Pan-African vision of Du Bois, into the Caribbean. Its most extensive effort in the 1910s focused on NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson’s investigation into the US Marine occupation of Haiti, but NAACP leaders also explored the possibility of chartering NAACP branches in several Caribbean cities. During the 1910s and 1920s, the NAACP leadership included a number of leaders who were either natives of or first generation removed from the Caribbean. Their influence had a major role on the development of the Association, its goals, and the ongoing debate over how (or whether) to implement Du Bois’ Pan-Africanism. The Association also had a long-running rivalry with Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negron Improvement Association (UNIA) during this period. During the early years of NAACP organizing, African American and Afro-Caribbean interests intersected in a variety of ways, which did not necessarily achieve Du Bois’ Pan-African vision but demonstrated its potential impact. This paper will examine the early engagement of the NAACP in the Caribbean as well as the influence of West Indians on the NAACP from approximately 1910 to 1930, as the Association tested the boundaries of its early organizational philosophies.