August 13, 1920: Pan-African flag adopted by the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).
The Pan-African flag, (also called the Marcus Garvey, UNIA, Afro-American or Black Liberation flag) was designed to represent people of the African Diaspora, and, as one scholar put it, to symbolize “black freedom, simple.”
The banner, with its horizontal red, black and green stripes, was adopted by the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) at a conference in New York City August 13, 1920. For several years leading up to that point, Marcus Garvey, the UNIA’s leader, talked about the need for a black liberation flag. Garvey thought of a flag as necessary symbol of political maturity.
At that time, the goal of Garvey‘s movement was to establish a political home for black people in Africa. Hill says that Garvey patterned his thinking on other nationalist movements at that time — the Jewish Zionist movement, the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the fight against imperialism in China. And it was the Irish struggle for independence that gave Garvey a lot of the political vocabulary of his movement.
The Pan-African flag’s colors each had symbolic meaning. Red stood for blood — both the bloodshed by Africans who died in their fight for liberation, and the shared blood of the African people. Black represented black people and green was a symbol of growth and the natural fertility of Africa.
Garvey and the UNIA framed the need for a flag in a political context, as everybody immediately seeing that flag would recognize that it was a manifestation of black aspirations, black resistance to oppression. The creation of a flag, then, was a step for black people around the world to claim an identity in their own right. Flags are important because they symbolize the union of governance, people and territory.
For black people, the flag means they have some way of identifying themselves in the world. And to also project to those people who are not members of this particular national community that they too belong, that they have membership in a world of communities, a world of nations.
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