Askia MuhammadColumnistsOpinion

MUHAMMAD: Marcus Garvey Deserves Presidential Pardon

American literature is dotted with romantic episodes when the very last acts of some departing Southern governors was issuing a pardon for some deserving, but otherwise hopeless black convicted murderer.

At that moment, the convicted soul is revived. He is reborn and his life soars.

Life imitates art? I hope and pray, while he still has the power of his signature, President Obama will pardon Marcus Mosiah Garvey. It is the right thing to do. Garvey was unjustly convicted by a federal conspiracy 93 years ago and justice demands his formal exoneration now!

Garvey’s life and the vindication of his legacy are already unassailable.

“The passage of time has confirmed his place in history but has not removed the stain of this injustice from his legacy,” said a letter written to the president in early December by numerous Congressional Black Caucus members including Yvette D. Clarke of New York and John Lewis of Georgia, making the case that Garvey’s conviction in 1923 was inspired by racism.

“We appreciate your consideration of this matter and we look forward to working with you in these final weeks of your Administration,” the letter said.

Garvey was the first popular black leader who advocated, outright, for black solidarity as the key component to black liberation. Amen, brother.

Garvey was a race-first black leader, advocating “Africa for the Africans … those at home and those abroad.” He advocated repatriating millions of black people “back to Africa,” in order to liberate that continent from colonialism, and to remove the former enslaved Africans in America back to their homeland at a time when integration and assimilation of the black community’s “talented tenth” into the white-American mainstream was the elusive, never-to-be-achieved goal.

He organized the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, attracting talent from the U.S. and the Caribbean. He founded the Universal Black Legion, the Negro Factories Corp., the Black Cross Nurses, the Black Star Shipping Line and the Negro World newspaper. At one time his movement boasted as many as six million members in 38 states and 41 other countries.

His organizing also attracted the attention of the 24-year-old director of the Justice Department’s General Intelligence Division, a lawyer named J. Edgar Hoover. Complaining in 1919 that Garvey had “not yet violated any federal law” to justify his deportation. Hoover suggested going after Garvey for fraud in connection with the sale of Black Star Line stock through the mails.

False charges were literally trumped-up against Garvey beginning in January 1922, until he was convicted of one count of mail fraud and conspiracy on June 18, 1923.

Garvey launched an immediate campaign for a pardon. He wrote President Calvin Coolidge a series of letters until, in 1927, nine of the 10 jurors who’d convicted him and could be found had recommended his pardon or the commutation of his sentence.

On Dec. 2, 1927, Garvey’s sentence was commuted and he was released from prison. He was transferred from Atlanta Federal Prison, to New Orleans, where he was immediately deported on board the S.S. Sarmacca, to his native Jamaica.

Now, almost 90 years after Garvey was deported, the clock is ticking and President Obama can — as late as Jan. 19, 2017 — give this innocent man the pardon he deserves.

Garvey’s son, Dr. Julius Garvey, a New York surgeon, also asked President Obama to issue a full pardon of innocence to Marcus Garvey.

In 1987, a concurrent resolution in the House of Representatives “expressing the sense of the Congress that the mail fraud charges brought against Marcus Garvey by the Federal Government were not substantiated and that his conviction on those charges was unjust and unwarranted.” I agree.

In 1987, coinciding with Garvey’s 100th birth anniversary, a House Judiciary subcommittee chaired by John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) held hearings to examine Garvey’s unjust conviction. Ironically, it was not the first Congressional proposal to pardon him.

As unlikely a supporter as Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) offered an amendment to the Martin Luther King Holiday bill in 1983, calling for the president to “remove this cloud over the reputation of Marcus Garvey” by granting a full pardon.

In the words of Garvey himself, written from the Atlanta prison:

When I am dead, wrap the mantle — the red, black and green around me. For in the new life I shall rise with God’s grace and blessing to lead the millions up the heights of triumph with the colors that you well know.

Look for me in the whirlwind or the storm. Look for me all around you, for, with God’s grace, I shall come and bring with me countless millions of Black slaves who have died in America and the West Indies and the millions in Africa to aid you in the fight for liberty, freedom and life.

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Askia Muhammad

WPFW News Director Askia Muhammad is also a poet, and a photojournalist. He is Senior Editor for The Final Call newspaper and he writes a weekly column in The Washington Informer.

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