FREE MARCUS GARVEY
BY JASON WALKER
Marcus Garvey is Jamaica’s 1st National hero, history’s greatest Pan-Africanist and the founder of the largest mass movement in history, the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association that claimed a membership of 4 million people with branches around the world), amongst many other seismic accomplishments. The title above might conjure up the rallying cry to have more access to education on the legendary man or more celebration of his accomplishments, words, vision and principles. That title might even bring forth a reminder that there is a need for much more adherence to his teachings of Pan-Africanism, black self-reliance, self-empowerment and other sustainable themes that he championed.
The title does not refer to the powerful sentiment of freeing or unleashing Marcus Garvey as the above paragraph delineates, however this title refers to a look at a movement that has been launched in response to the arresting and conviction of Marcus Garvey by the United States government on the charge of mail fraud in 1922. President Calvin Coolidge commuted Garvey’s sentence in 1927 and he was deported to Jamaica were he received a Hero’s welcome. Garvey passed in 1940. There is a consistent perspective among those who have researched the case and the events around the case that charges were unfounded and as such many believe Garvey should be pardoned.
One of the persons who have both researched extensively on Garvey and all that he has inspired and also demands exoneration is Jamaican poet, novelist and playwright Geoffry Philp. On speaking on the arrest of Garvey Philp lays out the reasons against the conviction: “J. Edgar Hoover used every legal maneuver to stop Garvey. In fact, before his eventual imprisonment on mail fraud, Garvey had been arrested several other times, which amounted to police and legal harassment.
However, Garvey was finally convicted on charges of mail fraud and sent to prison based on perjured confessions and the evidence of an empty envelope. Here are the words of two Garvey scholars, Colin Grant and Justin Hanford: “In order for Garvey to be found guilty of fraud, the prosecution would have to prove that the president-general [Garvey] had sent out adverts through the post, encouraging investors to buy shares in the Black Star Line knowing that these shares would be worthless. Strangely, the case turned on any empty envelope…Dancy’s only proof an empty envelope bearing a BSL stamp.
~ Colin Grant, Negro With a Hat, pp. 369.”
“On the day before the trial was set to begin, Judge Julian Mack received a mysterious correspondence from James Weldon Johnson, Secretary of the NAACP, in relation to the Garvey case. During the trial, Garvey submitted a plea for Judge Mack to recuse himself. Even though Judge Mack had participated “in meetings that finally led to the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People,” originators of the “Garvey Must Go” campaign that sought to “destroy Marcus Garvey’s credibility,” Judge Mack failed to recuse himself. On the basis of Berger v. United States, Judge Mack should have honored Garvey’s request for recusal.” There is this and other alleged judicial misconducts in Justin Hansfrd’s Jailing a Rainbow: The Marcus Garvey Case (December 29, 2008). Georgetown Journal of Modern Critical Race Perspectives, Vol. 2, 2009. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1321527
Philp has started a petition to Congress and President Barack Obama to pardon the historic leader. According to Philp “the target goals for the petition to Congress (http://www.causes.com/causes/809819-congress-exonerate-marcus-garvey/actions/1722148) and the petition to President Barack Obama http://signon.org/sign/exonerate-marcus-garvey?source=c.url&r_by=4631897) are set at 10,000 signatures.
On the response so far Philp shares, “So far we’ve had over 2000 signatures on both sites. This might not seem like a lot, but you have to realize that Marcus Garvey has been erased from our collective memory. There has been a total demonization of Marcus Garvey by the press, so-called scholars of Black history and many writers who ought to know better.”
Historically there have been several attempts at exoneration, Philp illustrated that “from the time that Garvey was in jail there have been many attempts for his exoneration among them the letters from Universal African Missionary Convention from Cape Town. The most recent has been Representative Charles Rangel bill that he introduced to the House of Representatives in 2007: H.Con.Res. 24 to exonerate Marcus Mosiah Garvey. Check out the bill here: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/110/hconres24/text
When asked the reason for doing this now, Philp responded; “I believe the presidency of Barack Obama affords us a unique opportunity for the exoneration of Marcus Garvey. President Obama is an heir to Garvey’s legacy and in his book, Dreams from my Father, and then candidate Obama quoted Garvey’s famous words, “Rise up ye mighty people.””
Garvey represents one of the most powerful movements in history, a movement that started representing Africans in Jamaica and then onto the whole world. Philp passionately states “We are not exonerating Marcus Garvey for his sake; we are doing it for ourselves. For those inside and outside the Diaspora there is a broader question. The historian, Roy Augier, said that the most important question we have to ask ourselves is, “How do I negotiate the African presence in my life?” This has enormous implications in how we live our lives—how and what we eat; how and what we wear—every thing
“The color line” that DuBois wrote about is still with us. Marcus Garvey resolutely stands for Africa and there is no escaping his influence.
Jason Walker is a freelance writer for Caribbean Today Magazine who has had an award winning journalism career that spans 20 years. He can be followed on twitter at www.twitter.com/jasonwalker_ or emailed at email@example.com