Campaign to exonerate Marcus Garvey

In this Aug. 1922 file photo, Marcus Garvey is shown in a military uniform as the “Provisional President of Africa” during a parade on the opening day of the annual Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World at Lenox Avenue in Harlem, New York City.
Associated Press

As Jamaicans on Wednesday celebrated the 129th anniversary of the birthday of prominent civil rights leader, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, several Caribbean organizations in the United States have joined the campaign to exonerate Jamaica’s first national hero.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based Institute of Caribbean Studies (ICS), Caribbean Diaspora organizations signing on the campaign include Caribbean Georgia; Caribbean American Advancement Foundation; Caribbean Political Action Committee; Foundation for the Exoneration of Marcus Garvey; Jamaica Association of Maryland; Jamaica Nationals Association; and Rebuild Dominica.

“The campaign offers an unprecedented opportunity for engagement among civil rights actors, research and education institutions, and the Caribbean Diaspora community,” said Jamaican Dr. Claire Nelson, ICS founder and president.

During the 100-day campaign, Nelson said Caribbean Diaspora organizations will, among other things, organize cultural expositions, fora and lectures “to shed light on the legacy of Garvey and provide support for this effort to right a wrong.”

Dr. Nelson said this “wrong” has “long been a thorn in the side of people of African descent and especially Caribbean Americans, whose ancestors immigrated to the U.S. through Ellis Island [in New York] almost 100 years ago.”

Nelson said the campaign builds on activities, over the past two decades, organized by the Universal Negro Improvement Association that was founded by Garvey; the Foundation for the Exoneration of Marcus Garvey; the National Association of Jamaican and Supportive Organizations; and ICS, among others.

On Wednesday, Nelson said that Garvey’s family was expected to hold a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington “to formally announce their petition to the White House for a posthumous Presidential Pardon.”

She said the Garvey family, under the leadership of Dr. Julius W. Garvey, a medical doctor and youngest son of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, lawyers from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, LLP, who have been advising the family on a pro bono basis, along with longtime advocate, Justin Hansford, a St. Louis University law professor and the Harvard University Democracy Project Fellow were expected to celebrate Garvey’s birthday with a kick-off of the campaign in support of the petition.

Nelson said the press conference was expected to be attended by leaders of the Caribbean Diaspora and several U.S. Congressional Black Caucus members, “who are joining the call for Garvey’s name to be cleared of the 1923 charges with a Presidential Pardon.”

In Jamaica, Dr. Nelson said celebrations for the birthday began with a Floral Tribute at the National Heroes Park in Kingston, the capital, attended by the governor general and political leaders.

This was followed by a drum call and lecture at Liberty Hall, where Nelson and a member of the Support Committee announced the “Exoneration Campaign,” prior to the featured lecture by Dr. Donna McFarlane, director and curator of Liberty Hall.

The day’s celebration continued with commemorations at the birthplace of Garvey in St. Ann and a gala awards benefit for the Universal Negro Improvement Association at Somali Court, a former residence of Marcus Garvey, in Kingston, Dr. Nelson said.

She said that, on June 24, Julius W. Garvey, Harvard University Law Professor Charles Ogletree, Harvard University Democracy Project Fellow Justin Hansford, and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld “submitted a petition requesting a presidential pardon be granted to Marcus Mosiah Garvey to exonerate his 1923 mail fraud charge.”

“A pardon is being called for on the grounds that Marcus Garvey was targeted by the U.S. government and J. Edgar Hoover [the late, former U.S. attorney general} for his political activity as a leader of the Pan-African movement,” Nelson said.

“His charges and conviction effectively ended his political movement and eventually led to his deportation back to Jamaica,” she added. “The family, 93 years later, is now seeking justice for Marcus Garvey with their campaign to have his charges exonerated.”

Julius Garvey said “justice can be delayed but cannot be denied,” noting that, in 1927, President Coolidge commuted Marcus Garvey’s sentence, “an act that was supported by nine of the 12 jurors who voted to convict.”

“However, the commutation still left Marcus Garvey’s conviction in place,” Dr. Garvey said.

ICS said there have been two prior U.S. presidential posthumous pardons: Bill Clinton’s pardon of Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper and George W. Bush’s pardon of Charles Winters.

ICS said both were pardoned “because their wrongful convictions were racially and politically motivated.

“Similarly, Garvey’s legal team is asserting his conviction was motivated by a desire on the part of the federal government to discredit, disrupt and destroy Garvey’s civil rights movement,” it said.

It also said Garvey was “executed through court surveillance and deception, with undercover agents posting as Garvey supporters.”

Additionally, ICS said Garvey’s conviction was “aided by judicial proceedings that have been condemned as factually unsound, and politically and racially motivated.”

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