By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
On his way out of the White House, like his predecessors, President Barack H. Obama will be pardoning and commuting the sentences of a number of people who currently sit in federal prisons around the nation.
But there is a movement to pardon and exonerate someone who has been dead for decades, led by his son and a growing army of people who still cling to the dead man’s legacy and ideals.
Marcus Garvey was tried, convicted, and jailed in 1923 for mail fraud. He only served three of the five years sanction, before President Calvin Coolidge commuted his sentence and Garvey tried to regain his footing as a leader of a national movement before he died in 1940 in London.
Now his son is leading an effort to have his father pardoned by the nation’s first Black President before he leaves office in January of 2017.
Dr. Julius Garvey, now 83, who is a Vascular Surgeon living in New York, says his effort is driven by a petition now in the hands of U.S. Department of Justice officials and the White House Counsel’s office.
Dr. Garvey said his father was tried and sentenced based on trumped up charges because he led a national movement seeking to connect the economic fortunes of Black people on the continent of Africa, the Caribbean and the United States under the banner of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).
“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm and other prominent Black leaders say my father wrote and started the first chapter of the modern Civil Rights Movement,” said Dr. Garvey. “My father led a movement which sought to get Black people to determine their own cultural and economic future.
He urged them to own and operate their businesses, to guide their own future and not allow others to do it for them.”
Dr. Garvey said his father’s message rings true today because some of the same economic, political and social forces which confronted Black people a century ago still exist.
His father argued, as did other Black leaders in the early 20th century, that Black people were being oppressed due to Jim Crow in the United States and aparthied in South Africa, and economic oppression in the Caribbean and elsewhere.
Apart from tweeting the President and his top aide Valerie Jarrett, Garvey said he hopes people will go to the http://justice4garvey.org/ and sign the petition calling for President Obama to pardon his father.
The wording of the petition states, “We believe Marcus Garvey was the subject of racial and political animus,” said Anthony T. Pierce, a partner at the Akin Gump law firm, who filed the petition with the Department of Justice and the White House Counsel’s Office to pardon Garvey.
“The main goal was to deport Garvey, because he was a rabble/rouser and a political threat,” said Pierce.
After a month long trial in 1923, Garvey was sentenced to five years in jail. He only served three years of the sentence and President Calvin Coolidge commuted his sentence. He was expelled from the United States, and he returned to his native Jamaica to live.
He wanted to move to Liberia, an African nation which was founded by American Blacks. But due to pressure from the U.S. government, leaders of the country refused to admit him.
Campaigns to pardon Garvey have been in the works since shortly after he was released from prison and before his death in 1940.
During the Reagan Administration, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Edward Seaga, asked President Reagan to pardon him, because he was deemed a hero by that country in 1987.
In 1990s, Michigan Congressman John Conyers launched an effort as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to do it. In 2004 New York Congressman Charles Rangel tried to do as well.
None of the campaigns gained any traction, especially during the years when the Republican party was in control of the House.
“I don’t think President Obama would have anything to lose by pardoning and exonerating my father, “ said Dr. Garvey, who, along with his brother who lives in Florida, got directly involved in the effort in 1997.
“He (Obama) could do it on his way out of the White House,” he continued. “We have support of the Congressional Black Caucus and the leaders of Jamaica, Costa Rica and Belize. We are trying to exert as much pressure and exposure as we can on this cause. If not, this would be a tremendous insult to Black people and my father’s legacy.”
Dr. Garvey said his father who was a migrant from Jamaica led a national movement and spoke out and tried to be an example of Black economic independence during the opening days of Jim Crow segregation.
The UNIA then had upwards of 700 divisions, mainly in the South, including Norfolk, Va., and in most of the largest cities around the United States such as New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. According to Dr. Garvey, units exist today in northern states like New York; however, none exist in the South.
Many of its members held regular meetings at a time when Blacks were migrating to the northern states to escape southern segregation and lynchings.
In the November 10, 1923 edition of the Journal and Guide, Garvey was in Norfolk speaking to a large gathering at Bank Street Baptist Church.
He had already served three months of his five year term at the time, but he had been released from jail pending an appeal of his sentence because of the numerous flaws in his trial. During his speech before a packed sanctuary he was defiant.
“Yes, I was in jail for three months and have no regrets for it and I am willing to go back in jail in the service of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and the Negro people of the world,” Garvey is quoted saying. “I did not go to jail because I was a preacher trying to build a church that the people did not want in the community. I did not go to jail because I was a bootlegger disturbing the peace of the community; I went to jail because I was trying to change the political way of the world and I am willing to go back to jail for the same thing.”
Garvey equated himself with George Washington, who risked going to jail or worse during the American Revolution to free colonists from British tyranny.
Garvey migrated to the U.S. in 1916, and two years later formed the UNIA. He started the Negro World newspaper and a year later, bought an auditorium in Harlem and called it Liberty Hall where thousands would come and listen to him.
In 1920 he was elected the UNIA’s Provisional President of Africa and periodically there would be huge rallies and parades with Black men and women clad in uniforms.
Garvey wanted to use his ship line to export goods between the United States, Africa and the Caribbean.
To help finance it, he sold stock at $5 a share, allowing other Blacks to have a stake in the enterprise.
All of this activity caught the attention of the U.S. government, already scared of the communist push in Russia and other parts of Europe.
A newly minted lawyer by the name of J. Edgar Hoover was a staffer with the Justice Department’s new law enforcement arm and the forerunner of the FBI, which he would later head for decades.
History books now reveal, and Dr. Garvey pointed out, that Hoover was a “White supremacist and had a life long obsession to neutralize the rise of a Black liberators.”
Documents released long after the Garvey’s trial revealed that the FBI admitted it was investigating Garvey to find reasons to deport him as an “undesirable alien.”
In 1921, two years after the steamship company began, it announced that it would buy two more ships. But a newspaper which competed with Garvey’s publication published an investigative article claiming the U.S. Department of Commerce had no record of these ships being bought by the UNIA.
Garvey, his treasurer and secretary were arrested and charged with using the Postal Service to defraud stockholders.
When Garvey’s lawyer urged him to plead guilty, Garvey fired him and represented himself. In June of 1923, after a month-long trial in New York, Garvey was convicted of mail fraud.
Dr. Julius Garvey said the main witness for the federal government was coaxed to perjure himself.
“In 1922, it was my father,” said Dr. Garvey. “Later it was Dr. King and other Black leaders who were seeking to liberate our people during the Civil Rights Movement. They were spied on and hurt in various other ways.”
Dr. Julius Garvey was seven-years-old when his father who lived in Britain died. He did visit his dad, and recalls throwing snow balls in the backyard of his father’s London home.
Dr. Garvey has a brother Marcus Garvey, Jr., who is now 86 and is an engineer living in Florida. Both grew up with their mother, Amy Jacques Garvey in Jamaica.
To express support for the pardoning effort and petition go Justice4Garvey@gmail.org or http://justice4garvey.org/