Marcus Garvey Should Be Granted Posthumous Pardon; Congress Appeals

Members of congress and some social activists have called on President Obama to posthumously pardon the famous Black leader, Marcus Garvey.

Eighteen members of Congress have penned a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to grant a posthumous pardon to Marcus Garvey, The Grio states.

Garvey, who was born in Jamaica, led the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League organization in the 1920s before he was convicted of mail fraud in what many now see as a conviction motivated by politics and race.

A proponent of the back-to-Africa movement, Garvey incorporated such business ventures as the Black Star Line into the movement in order to aid its goals.

However, when the business ventures began to suffer from financial difficulties, and when the speeches and political movement began to catch the attention of the Justice Department, an investigation was launched, and Garvey was convicted of mail fraud and sentenced to five years in prison.

President Calvin Coolidge commuted Garvey’s sentence and deported him to Jamaica two years later, in 1927, and Marcus Garvey died in England in 1940.

“The passage of time has confirmed his place in history but has not removed the stain of this injustice from his legacy,” Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-Brooklyn) wrote in the letter signed by 17 other members of Congress.

“We believe that Marcus Garvey meets the criteria for a posthumous pardon, based on his efforts to secure the rights of people of African descent and the utter lack of merit to the charges on which he was convicted,” Clarke added.

Lead by Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-Brooklyn), the 18 members of Congress are urging President Obama to grant the pardon for Garvey, the Jamaica-born leader who ran his international Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League organization in New York for a number of years in the 1920s, according to the Daily News.

The passage of time has confirmed his place in history but has not removed the stain of this injustice from his legacy,” wrote Clarke. She penned the letter, backed by 17 signatories – including New York Congressmen Charles Rangel, Gregory Meeks, Hakeem Jeffries, civil rights pioneer Rep. John Lewis (Georgia), Eleanor Holmes Norton (Washington, D.C.), John Conyers (Michigan) and Barbara Lee (California).

Though founded in Jamaica in 1914, Garvey’s New York City headquarters hosted a 1920 convention in Madison Square Garden and presented huge Harlem parades. Garvey became a prominent figure in the socially influential post World War I Harlem Renaissance along with pioneering Black intellectuals and activists such as NAACP leaders W. E. B. Du Bois, Walter White and James Weldon Johnson, and labor leader A. Philip Randolph.

The Garvey organization had branches in 40 countries including the U.S., the Caribbean, Central and South America, Africa and India at its peak. Garvey – a promoter of a back-to-Africa movement of the 1920s – also incorporated the Black Star Lines shipping company to aid the movement’s goals. But the leader’s well-attended programs, speeches and activities that prompted black pride and economic independence drew the attention of the U.S. Justice Department section targeting radical groups in the U.S.

The Black Star Line and other business ventures suffered serious financial difficulties and after a years-long Justice Department investigation, headed by J. Edgar Hoover, Garvey was charged with using the U.S. mail to defraud business investors. He was convicted in 1923 and started a 5-year prison term in 1925. But two years later, President Calvin Coolidge commuted Garvey’s sentence and deported him to Jamaica. Garvey died in England in 1940.

In 1987, Conyers held a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the unfairness of the Garvey conviction and Rangel this year re-introduced a Congressional resolution to clear Garvey’s name.

In his native Jamaica, Garvey is held in high esteem as one the Caribbean nation’s seven national heroes.

The letter to President Obama was delivered Dec. 9.

Dr. Julius Garvey, the youngest son of the late civil rights leader, was joined by activists, academics and attorneys Wednesday to demand his father’s exoneration in a press conference at the National Press Club, The Washington Times reports.

I had to grow up with the fact that my father was a convicted criminal, convicted in the United States of America which is the biggest and the strongest country in the world,” Dr. Garvey said. “It was very difficult for me as a young man to reconcile what I knew about my father, personally, and what I knew about my father from my mother, to reconcile that with a criminal conviction when it was clear when he gave his whole life and sacrificed his family for African people.”

A Jamaican national hero, Marcus Garvey in 1914 founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which promotes the social, political and economic freedom of blacks by advocating their “return” to African nations. Shortly after establishing the organization, Garvey emigrated to the United States with the goal of expanding the group.

The achievements of Marcus Garvey for Blacks cannot be overemphasized. Therefore, criminalizing such a selfless leader only drags his name into disrepute.  I think it is time to address this issue once and for all. At least, as a compensation for the unjust treatment Garvey was made to undergo, President Obama should grant him the posthumous pardon.

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