Developing Detroit’s Black Business Community: Southern Migrants and the Universal Negro Improvement Association

Kendra Boyd

Drawing on organizational records, newspapers, and oral histories, this paper discusses how the ideology and business endeavors of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) contributed to black business development in Detroit. The Great Migration was the mass movement of more than six million African Americans out of the U.S. South between 1910 and 1970. Migrants with entrepreneurial aspirations moved to Detroit and attempted to gain economic independence through business. Many of these migrants became attracted to the teachings of Marcus Garvey and joined the UNIA in the early 1920s. Founded by Garvey in 1914, the UNIA pushed a powerful self-help message, and business was a vital aspect of the organization’s agenda. The Detroit chapter of the UNIA not only established businesses, but also encouraged individual entrepreneurship and buying from black-owned establishments. I argue that although the UNIA’s business program failed on the national level, the local UNIA chapter and its business initiatives had a positive impact on black business development in Detroit.