Islam became a significant force in African American culture during the 1920s due in large part to the religion’s endorsement by the immensely popular black nationalist movement led by Marcus Garvey. Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, which promoted not only black emigration and economic independence, but also cultural pride and the resistance to white oppression, emerged slowly in the late 1910s but by the early 1920s had become the largest African American organization in history, and it therefore had a tremendous impact on black culture at the time. Its rise to prominence, as this chapter argues, was largely due to its effective use of mass media; its attractive economic, political, and religious programs and concepts; and its successful recruiting of pre-existing social networks, especially those of churches. Through these efforts, Garvey’s movement became particularly influential in the realm of black religion, and when Muslims and Islamic ideas started connecting with the movement and its leaders, there was the potential for African Americans across the United States being widely exposed to Islam for the first time. This chapter examines the early years of Garvey’s movement, just prior to it becoming an unprecedented force in the spread of Islam.

A History of Conversion to Islam in the United States, Volume 2

The African American Islamic Renaissance, 1920-1975