Marcus Garvey and U.N.I.A.'s Contribution to Health and Wellness


August 31st 1920 is declared a national holiday on this date in Harlem, New York when the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League was declared a world government in Convention by the Plebiscite in attendance representing Africa and the Diaspora. In honor of this achievement Marcus Garvey is the cover picture. Emphasis is on the eternal legacy of Marcus Garvey and the U.N.IA. in health care for Africa and the African Diaspora. The U.N.I.A. as an organization was involved in extensive development and improvement of health and social care activities. This emerged, out of necessity, from the patterns of racial exclusion and "Jim Crowism" that were fundamental to colonial relationships in all European countries and the Americas. During the historic August 1st to 31st 1920 Convention in Harlem New York the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League was established as a Government according to international law. This included the writing of The Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World. This document layed out the grievances of the plebiscite attending the Conference represented by more than 25,000 people from Africa and the Diaspora. http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5122/ At the same time the Office of the Surgeon General was approved the Director of the Surgeon Generals Office was also appointed. He was Dr. D.D. Lewis M.D., a Nigerian, and head of the Montreal Division of the U.N.I.A. The Office of the Surgeon General cooperated with work in youth, preventative health, hygiene, counseling (men coming from war; lynching), maternity services, as well as contagious disease control (TB and sexually transmitted disease). Mr and Mrs. Garvey and members of the U.N.I.A such as the Hon. Sarah Lynch from Division 50 in the State of Washington worked diligently to facilitate the use of black nurses, particularly following World War I and II throughout the Americas, Caribbean and the United Kingdom. There were two UNIA Divisions in the State of Washington in the Pacific Northwest 50 and 97 The Surgeon General’s Office of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League held overall responsibility for the work of the Universal African Black Cross Nurses and other health professionals. The President of the Universal African Black Cross Nurses was the Hon. Sarah Branch. They were called Black Cross Nurses because of the way the caps they wore; as part of their uniforms; were designed. In the centre of the cap was a Black Cross. This insignia was adopted because these nurses were denied admission to the Red Cross Nurses (voluntary sector); training in hospitals; schools and other institutions that trained nurses - because they were delegated for white nursing students only. This was based on racial exclusion and eugenics. When black people worked in hospitals they were regulated to the most menial and demeaning tasks. This applied, particularly, to the care of white patients. All Africans in the health professions in the Americas and Africa cared for black patients in segregated facilities, often of an inferior standard, such as a "back porch" or "cupboard". African patients in the Americas and on the Continent of Africa were regulated to inappropriate sections of health facilities and hospitals such as contagious disease wards or areas that were not compatible to health improvement, irrespective of the condition or treatment of the patient. As a rule white nurses and doctors did not care for or concern themselves with African patients unless it was for medical experimentation. Racial bias and separation as well as the eugenic movement made this a global policy prior to and during World Wars I and II and in some parts of the United States until the 70’s. The Universal African Black Cross Nurses are being used as a reference for examining the contributions of the Garvey Movement to the global health and social care of Africans. This is because the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League was the largest organized mass movement ever to address and seek remedies to the collective challenges confronting the African Continent and the African Diaspora. © Dr. Infanta Spence-Lewis M.D.

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