Obama and the ‘Garvey Question’

From my “Department of Where the Rubber Meets the Road…”

If Illinois Sen. Barack Obama were to become the 44th President of the United States, a question which could fairly be brought to him, then might be, whether or not he would grant a pardon to Black self-help leader Marcus Garvey.

A committee to exonerate Garvey continues to campaign for Congressional support of legislation authored by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) for 20 years now. The measure–H. Con. Res. 24–expresses the sense of the Congress that the President should pardon Mr. Garvey “to clear his name and affirm his innocence of crimes for which he was unjustly prosecuted and convicted.”

That is the last decision a ‘President Obama” would want to have to make early in his term: to have to give long, long overdue justice to a Black man, and by so doing appear to be appeasing Black radicals, instead of correcting a wrong; or to let the Good Name of an unfairly convicted and disgraced Black icon remain stained by White American race hatred?

Don’t expect any quick pardons during President Obama’s First 100 Days in the White House. That’s all the first acknowledged Black President would need to give him premature gray hair: a Marcus Garvey Case.

Don’t forget, it took 110 years after his death for Congress in 1977, to approve legislation restoring the citizenship of Confederate Commander Gen. Robert E. Lee. Lee’s act of treason against his country was not forgiven, for more than a century. But the Right Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey’s only crime was a desire to organize Black people into a strong world wide force for improvement of the Black Condition.

But, who knew?

That’s because when most folks know anything at all about Marcus Mosiah Garvey, it’s that he was convicted in the 1920s of mail fraud, or that he was the first popular Black leader who advocated, outright, Black solidarity as the key component to Black liberation.

That is precisely what I like most–and what many others like least about him–he was a “race first” Black leader, advocating “Africa for the Africans…those at home and those abroad.” He advocated repatriating millions of blacks “back to Africa,” in order to liberate that continent from colonialism, and to remove the former Black slaves 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 goal.

Marcus Garvey was born in St. Ann’s bay Jamaica. And after traveling in Europe, Central and South America as a printer and journalist, he arrived in New York city, where the 27-year-old found in Harlem in 1914, much fertile ground among the Black population for his message of redemption through race pride and black self-help.

He organized the Universal Negro Improvement Association, attracting Black 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.

Garvey’s 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.

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 could be found, who’d convicted him recommended his pardon or the commutation of his sentence!

An innocent man.

On December 2, 1927 Garvey was in effect pardoned. He was transferred from Atlanta Federal Prison, to New Orleans, where he was immediately deported to his native Jamaica.

“When I am dead wrap the mantle–the red, black and green around me,” Garvey wrote from Atlanta Prison. “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.”

That’s why I’m not looking for a pardon out of President Obama. Not for Marcus Garvey, anyway.

2 thoughts on “Obama and the ‘Garvey Question’

  1. The storm that blows over the East Coast of America was predicted by Marcuc Garvey, and don’t forget the earth quake that recently hit the Unites States East coast. “Look for me in the whirlwind or the storm” – Marcus Garvey. These events occured only days after the White House rejected Marcus Garvey’s Posthumous pardon request.

  2. I remember hurricane Alecia (in 1983) which came on the birthday of Marcus Garvey – August 17. Many gathered and talked of the words and speculated about the time as Alecia was coming upon the U.S. Gulf coast. The storm did bring unexpected distruction amidst the whirlwind but it was not the time for the next coming of Marcus Garvey. As the book says, no human knows the day or the hour…but the time will come…