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Black Star: African American Activism in the International Political Economy.

Black Star: African American Activism in the International Political Economy. By Ramla M. Bandele. (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2008. Pp. x, 230. $40.00.)

The author of this study utilizes Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in a groundbreaking case study of how the African diaspora operated in the international political economy of the 1920s. Ramla M. Bandele defines the African diaspora as "liminal ... growing experientially toward maturity in its political and economic dimensions" (6). She then moves to a review of the literature and a discussion of the international political economy. The author places Garvey within the era's African American politics before discussing the Black Star Line (BSL) and the government's subversion efforts. An analysis of Garvey's failure follows. Bandele closes with a discussion of how her study can be used to enhance the field of diaspora theory. She argues that organizational "centralization boosts the ability of the African diaspora (and other liminal diasporas) to be politically effective" as it enhances the ability to raise funds and pool human resources in a manner that limits the marginality of diaspora peoples and heightens the effectiveness of nonstate political activism (12).

The strongest parts of the book are the literature review and the history of the BSL. The literature review reads like an excellent doctoral dissertation with a discussion of the relative strengths and weaknesses of work in the field and how the author's efforts add to the historiography. The memoirs of Amy Jacques Garvey and BSL Captain Hugh Malzac complete the picture. The review alone will prove useful to readers interested in UNIA materials and this unique historical moment.

The author uses primary sources such as Garvey's trial transcripts, the UNIA Papers, BSL materials, the black press, and British and American intelligence reports in her narration of BSL history. Bandele discusses how and why the UNIA created its own shipping company in an ill-fated attempt to build a transnational economy for a nation-state still in the developmental stage. She demonstrates how Garvey's work was both visionary and fatally flawed from the very beginning. The UNIA hoped to use the BSL to carry products and passengers throughout the Western Hemisphere and West Africa as a demonstration of the practicality of their political and economic model. Garvey relied on energetic grassroots organizers who were able to raise astounding sums of money in the Western Hemisphere from a new black working class born out of the labor shortages created by World War I.

The author argues that neither government intervention nor UNIA inexperience and mistakes were completely to blame for the BSL's demise. There is no question though that the U.S. government managed to penetrate the UNIA's upper echelon. One agent opened mail for Garvey and consequently was able to "initiate effective subversion within the organization and between the UNIA and other black organizations" (125).

The postwar international shipping industry was extremely competitive as the United States and the colonial powers struggled to capture as much market share as their national carriers could accommodate. The BSL, however, was hindered by undercapitalization and a lack of expertise in managing a shipping company. The complexities of the UNIA's nation-building efforts inevitably clashed with the government's demands for corporate financial accountability.

Black Star is a fine addition to the field of diaspora studies and a necessary read for those interested in developing their knowledge of Garvey and the UNIA.

Paul Alkebulan

Virginia State University
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Author:Alkebulan, Paul
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2010
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