Since February is Black History Month, this is a medal relating to the largest mass movement among African-Americans in the early part of the 20th century. The Cross of African Redemption appears in numerous photographs of Marcus Garvey, who founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).


Marcus Garvey was Jamaica-born (1887) and left school at age fourteen to learn the printing and newspaper business. He moved to London in 1912, where he became heavily involved in politics and nationalist movements. Two years later, having returned to Jamaica, he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and, in 1917, established its headquarters in New York. By 1920, Garvey had created the African Legion, which dressed in military-style uniforms. Garvey obviously liked the military regalia, as he was regularly photographed in uniform, wearing a single medal and a plumed fore-and-aft cap.

Garvey Cross

“Cross of African Redemption”


The Cross of African Redemption seems to be the UNIA’s only medallic issue. It’s a four-armed cross, with a star in the center and “African/Redemption” on the central surround, with the initials “U/N/I/A” on the cross arms. The reverse is blank, except for the maker’s mark “Robbins & Co/Attleboro”. The medal is known in silver and bronze, although it is very likely that there is a gilt version as well. The ribbon has equal stripes of red, black and green.

By 1922, Garvey was involved in confrontations and controversies with several other African-American leaders and organizations. Charges and counter-charges flew, many involving corruption in the UNIA and the Black Star Line, a shipping company Garvey founded to transport passengers to Africa. The federal government soon took note of Garvey and J. Edgar Hoover took a personal interest in the investigation and prosecution of Garvey. Garvey was indicted and convicted on mail fraud charges, beginning a prison sentence in 1925. His sentence was commuted two years later and Garvey was deported to Jamaica. With Garvey out of the picture, the UNIA lost its momentum and faded away. Garvey died in London in 1940.

The Cross of African Redemption, which is in no way associated with the Liberian Order of African Redemption (founded in 1879), faded with the UNIA. Its image lives on mostly through photographs of Marcus Garvey in the history of black nationalist movements in the United States.

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  1. Thanks to Jerseyguy for a correction:

    The Cross of African Redemption was not the only award of the UNIA. Garvey and the UNIA also founded the Sublime Order of the Nile and the Order of Ethiopia.

    If anyone has any images of these two orders, I’d be most interested in seeing them.

  2. Negro with a Hat : The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey; Oxford Univ. Press, 2008 p 318 describes a bestowal of these three awards and names a few recipients. images an individual wearing a Cross of African Redemption and possibly an Order of the Nile. Same image depicts two men wearing caps with badges apparently of Garvey’s Black Star Line shipping company.

  3. Thanks for the link. I had not run into this source. Unfortunately, I’ve not found an image that clearly depicts the orders. Images of the Cross of African Redemption are far easier to find.

  4. There was a gold medal of this award. This cross was awarded to people who subscribed to the Universal Negro Improvement Association’s Construction Loan. A sum of $2,000,000 was sought. If you subscribed from $50 to $100 you got a bronze cross. If you subscribed $100 to $500 you got a silver gross, and from $500 to $1000 earned you a gold cross. One of the ads for this subscription proclaimed “The Gold Cross of African Redemption will be to Negroes what the Victoria Cross of England has been to Englishmen, and the Iron Cross of Germany has been to the Germans. There can be no excuse for each and every Negro not supporting the Universal Negro Improvement Association’s Construction Loan.”

  5. A $500-1000 donation would have been a substantial gift in those days. It’s no wonder the gold medals are rare. It took me 40 years to find the bronze and silver examples, so I’m not holding my breath for a gold one.

  6. I appreciate what you have said and have one bronze U.N.I.A medal but would like another bronze one as well as a silver for my Archive collection that concentrates on Ethiopia, Haile Selassie I, Reggae music and Jamaica.

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