This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

UNIA parade in Harlem, reported as being both from 1920 and 1924. (Photo:

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From the long history of Black feminism in Europe to what’s in a “special relationship,” here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

The Work of Black Feminism in Europe

Annette Joseph-Gabriel
Black Perspectives

In May 1947, two Martinican women, Yva Lero and Angèle Valery, attended the second congress of the Union of French Women in Paris. As representatives of the feminist organization the Union of Women of Martinique (UFM), they spent four intensive days in dialogue and collaboration with other French feminists. Together the delegates at the congress condemned bread rationing in France and the war in Indochina. They also demanded the creation of daycare centers so that French mothers could work outside the home.

But, as French women from a Caribbean island that until only three years prior was still a colony, Lero and Valery knew that they had a more difficult fight before them than their white counterparts did. They knew, for example, that women in France had access to social security and financial assistance from the government to care for their families while women in Martinique did not. They argued that by refusing to extend these rights to Martinican women, France continued to maintain their colonial status and second-class citizenship. [continue reading]

Our Rightful Place in the Sun: Marcus Garvey and the 1920 Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World

Steven LB Jensen
Maverick Citizen

Today, August 13, marks the centenary for one of the most remarkable human rights declarations prepared by international civil society during the 20th century: The Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World. Drafted and adopted in New York at the first annual convention of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, the Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World laid out many themes that have continued to shape human rights debates up until today. A forgotten document, its story deserves to be brought to light – perhaps more than ever in a year that has brought racial inequalities and the #BlackLivesMatter movement to the forefront of international political debate.

Liberty Hall is brimming with excitement. Reportedly 12,000 people are in attendance. Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey, who had recently founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), takes the podium. At this first-ever annual convention, he explains that collectively they have spent the last two and a half years spreading “the doctrines of the UNIA to the four corners of the world”. Responding to the national and global politics of the postwar moment, a leading UNIA figure states: “We fought, bled and died on the battle plains of France and Flanders that the world might be ‘made safe for democracy’. The reality that Blacks face at this moment, however, is a far cry from this aspiration.” [continue reading]

Repelling refugees, 2020 / 1938

Becky Taylor
Refugee History

This seems a good moment to remember Britain’s well-established tradition of repelling refugees from its shores. As the persecution of Jews and dissidents in Nazi-controlled Germany and Austria intensified in the summer of 1938, and as the liberal democracies which surrounded its territories imposed more and tougher visa restrictions and hardened their borders against refugees, those seeking refuge started to look for other means to enter safe countries. Those who had reached France, but feared that the country might soon be in line for invasion, or who already had relatives in Britain, started to enter the country illegally.

By definition, we have no means of knowing how many people did so successfully. If there are traces of these movements, they will lie in family memory, diaries and personal accounts and not public record. What we do have are accounts from newspapers, which over the summer and autumn of 1938 frequently carried stories of desperate attempts by refugees without the correct documentation to enter or remain in Britain. Reporters covered deportations of refugees landing at Croydon airport or Harwich port only to be turned back by immigration officers. They also wrote of refugees paying to cross the Channel in motor boats, landing at night or swimming ashore to circumvent immigration restrictions. They penned lurid reports of prosecutions for bigamous marriages, where German Jewish women were alleged to have offered money and other inducements to British men in exchange for marriage and the prospect of British nationality it offered. [continue reading]

Race and  Empire: Writing the Global History of Irish Revolution

Fearghal McGarry and Enda Delaney
Cambridge Core Blog

The global ripples of the Black Lives Matter movement resulting from the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25 May 2020 were felt in Ireland where attention focused on memorials to advocates of slavery, as well as other individuals associated with reprehensible causes. Should the statue to John Mitchel – a supporter of slavery in the American South – fall in Newry? Should Dublin’s Westmoreland Street – named after John Fane who resisted the prohibition of slavery – be renamed? In Dublin’s Fairview Park, the statue of I.R.A. leader Seán Russell, who sought Nazi support in wartime Berlin, also came under renewed scrutiny when it was singled out by former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

A prominent theme of these debates concerned the extent of Irish complicity given the country’s subordinate relationship to Britain. In a much-criticised intervention, one Irish historian argued that far ‘from being culpable in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Ireland was itself an object of the same process of colonisation that gave rise to the trade’, its people ‘subject to the same process of subjugation and degradation’ as that inflicted on enslaved Africans. Given the differing legal status, treatment, and legacies experienced by both groups, few historians would concur with this crude equivalence. [continue reading]

What’s In A Special Relationship?

Justin Quinn Olmstead
History Matters

The recent decision by US President Donald Trump to remove some American troops from Germany has brought much consternation to the international community. One interesting twist that has found its way into the conversation occurred when Anthony Blinker, policy advisor to presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden commented that the move weakened NATO and harmed Germany, ‘our [America’s] most important ally in Europe.’ Many on both sides of the Atlantic gasped at this comment, but none more so than those in the United Kingdom. The truth of the matter is – and this may come as a shock to some – that the United States has never seen the Anglo-American relationship as special. Yes, there are cultural and linguistic commonalities, but when it comes to foreign policy, the United States’ view on Britain and Europe does not match that of an Anglo-American ‘special relationship’.

It would be fair to say that Winston Churchill’s consistent message of a Special Relationship between Great Britain and the United States has ingrained the phrase in the minds of most citizens of both countries. Nevertheless, from a governmental and policy position, it has traditionally been a one-sided relationship. American leaders have rarely used the phrase and even more rarely acted on it to the point that former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt is reported to have said the ‘British clam to have a special relationship with the US, but if you mention this in Washington, no one knows what you are talking about.’ This idea was reinforced during the Brexit debates when US President Barack Obama stated that the UK would find itself at the back of the queue in US trade negotiations. [continue reading]