And don’t think it was just the men who were members of Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). There was the UNIA Women’s Brigade founded by Marcus Garvey who sported their own militaristic style uniforms in Harlem, New York, 1924.
The UNIA Women’s Brigade in this photograph taken by James Van Der Zee is a rarity as they stand motionless during a drill headed by Miss Eva Cain in the streets of Harlem (see inscribed in the left hand corner of the image). The UNIA offered women a place of their own within the organization. Women were subordinate to men within the U.N.I.A. as in many other membership organizations. But these women’s auxiliaries and the U.N.I.A.’s Juvenile Division helped to complement male-identified U.N.I.A. divisions like the African Legion, and offered women a chance to develop leadership and organizational skills and a place to express their commitment to the ideals of the U.N.I.A. Other divisions included the Black Cross Nurses an international organization of nurses which was founded in 1920, based upon the model of the Red Cross and the juvenile divisions took part in U.N.I.A. parades; with the boys marching in blue uniforms and the girls in green dresses.
The UNIA organized parades that attracted large numbers of participants and spectators. They were a show of the movement’s strength. Many of the hopes of economic, social, and political progress that African-Americans had held during World War I had been dashed by the rising tide of racial violence in 1919. In the wake of race riots and lynchings all over the country, many African-Americans gravitated toward Garvey’s Back-to-Africa movement.