10 Things To Know About Black Nationalist And UNIA Legend Laura Adorkor Kofi

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Written by Ann Brown
Kofi
Here are 10 things you should know about assassinated Black nationalist and minister Laura Adorkor Kofi, a legend in the Universal Negro Improvement Association. (Photo: University Press of Florida)

Laura Adorkor Kofi was a Ghananian minister who became for a while a vital voice in Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) movement. Until a fallout with Garvey, Kofi worked to preach pan-Africanism and to encourage Black Americans to return to Africa. 

Also known as Mother Kofi, she was assassinated on March 2, 1928, while preaching in Miami, Florida.

Royalty

Kofi, who was born in 1893 near Accra, Ghana, was thought to be from a royal African family. A plaque at her gravesite calls her “Princess.”

Kofi was the daughter of a king in the former British West African colony of Gold Coast — now Ghana, according to Vibert White, a Kofi scholar, author and associate history professor at the University of Central Florida. Kofi had been told a prophecy that she would be a messenger to a distant land and had immigrated to the U.S. by about 1917, Jacksonville.com reported.

Visionary

Some believed Kofi had special spiritual powers. Some versions of her early life said that she experienced visions and voices which encouraged her to go abroad and teach Africans in America, Wikipedia reported.

“She said that she had a revelation to liberate African American people, to take them on the right course, back to the Promised Land, Africa, and to create an independent community, a cultural, independent community,” said White, who wrote an essay on Kofi in the book “Africa in Florida: Five Hundred Years of African Presence in the Sunshine State,” according to My Florida History.

Call her Mother Kofi

Kofi was known as “Mother Kofi” by admirers and she had many admirers. By the mid-1920s, the minister had more than 25,000 followers, Jacksonville.com reported.

Coming to America

Around 1917 or 1918, Kofi moved to North America and lived in Detroit for several years. While she was there she went to work as a national field director for Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). She focused on Black communities in the deep South and eventually developed a base in Jacksonville, Florida. 

“Kofi opened Garvey’s group to new possibilities in the South, drawing thousands to speeches she delivered in Jacksonville, Miami, and Tampa and swelling membership rolls in a part of the country that Garvey didn’t frequent,” Jacksonville.com.

Within months, she became the most popular figure in that group, except for Marcus Garvey, author White told My Florida History. “They send her throughout the Deep South. Mississippi, Alabama, and everywhere she is going she’s attracting, five, and ten, and fifteen thousand audience members, something that had never been seen before.”

Smear campaign

“Marcus Garvey had never met a person…who could speak as well as she could. Everywhere she went, she packed an audience. She was a commanding speaker. She was a threat to him,” White told Jacksonville.com. 

When Kofi and Garvey parted ways, Garvey encouraged his followers to get Kofi arrested for fraud. A campaign was started to smear her. Rumors were spread that she was hot from Africa, but was born “Laura Champion” in Athens, Georgia, Wikipedia reported.

In 1925, Garvey was imprisoned for mail fraud, and while Garvey was in prison, Kofi’s popularity grew, much to Garvey’s chagrin.

“From his prison cell, Garvey attacked Kofi’s credibility and encouraged his followers to abandon her,” My Florida History reported. “Some members of the UNIA began creating disturbances at Kofi’s presentations, and she feared that her life was in danger at the hands of Garvey’s inner circle.”

Kofi began to feel unsafe in Miami so she relocated to Jacksonville. Once there, she announced her split from the UNIA.

She founded the African Universal Church in 1927. She led the church as  “Warrior Mother of Africa’s Warriors of the Most High God,” her self-chosen title. The founding of the church didn’t sit well with Garvey, who continued to distance himself from her. He also sought to discredit her and reportedly announced, “This woman is a fake and has no authority from me to speak,” according to Wikipedia.

Church of many languages

At Kofi’s church, services were held in English and Bantu, a family of languages spoken in Central and Southern Africa including Swahili, Xhosa, and Zul. Bantu was taught to the children.

“This was to carry on what the princess taught, what she wanted — a better relationship between Africa and America,” church member Piko Horne said. “Her thing was, ‘What about your identity? You came from Africa. Be proud of who you are.’”

Assassination

In March 1928, Kofi was shot while preaching at a church in Miami. “She died from the gunshot wound to her head. Her presumed assailant, Maxwell Cook — a Jamaican follower of Marcus Garvey — “was immediately beaten to death by the congregation who witnessed the attack,” Wikipedia reported.

“That day when she was assassinated is a very sacred day to us,” said Piko Horne, whose family were longtime members of Kofi’s church, in a Jacksonville.com interview. 

An estimated 10,000 people attended Kofi’s funerals and memorials in various cities. Her remains were dressed in robes of black, green, and red.

Battle over body

After her death, Kofi’s life was celebrated in various cities around the country.  “When they left Miami, they had a funeral in West Palm Beach. They had a funeral in St. Augustine. They had a funeral in Daytona Beach, and so on until they ultimately got to Jacksonville to bury her,” said follower Vibert White to Jacksonville.com.

Then there was a battle over how to lay her body to rest, Jacksonville.com reported. Ultimately, Kofi was interred in a mausoleum in Jacksonville’s old City Cemetery.

“The body was wrapped ‘mummy fashion’ in black, red and green silk robes and put in an expensive bronze casket,” Jacksonville.com reported.

Pilgrimages

People still make religious pilgrimages to visit Mother Kofi’s mausoleum in Jacksonville’s old City Cemetery.

Settlement

In her honor, a small settlement close to her church was built and named Adorkaville, according to the Ghana Report.