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Marcus Garvey Inspired Millions, from MLK to Mandela; Now His Son Is Asking Obama to Pardon Him

StoryDecember 22, 2016
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Today we look at another request for a presidential pardon, this one from the family of Marcus Garvey, a pioneering figure in the Black Freedom struggle in the early 20th century who inspired generations of civil rights activists around the world. In the 1920s, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover targeted Garvey for his political activity as a leader of the Pan-African movement. Garvey was convicted in 1923 on a charge of mail fraud and sentenced to five years in jail. His charges and conviction effectively ended Garvey’s political movement and eventually led to his deportation back to Jamaica. We speak to Marcus Garvey’s son, Dr. Julius Garvey, who is leading the Justice4Garvey effort.

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Web ExclusiveDec 22, 2016Part 2: Marcus Garvey’s Family Asks President Obama for a Posthumous Pardon
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Earlier this week, President Obama granted clemency to 231 prisoners—the most individual acts of clemency granted in a single day by any president in U.S. history. According to the White House, Obama has now commuted more sentences than the last 11 presidents combined. But Obama has taken no action on several of the most high-profile prisoners seeking pardons or clemency. On Wednesday, we looked at the cases of Native American activist Leonard Peltier and Chelsea Manning. Tomorrow we’ll talk about Puerto Rican independence activist Oscar López Rivera.

But today we look at another request for a presidential pardon, this one from the family of Marcus Garvey, a pioneering figure in the Black Freedom struggle in the early 20th century who inspired generations of civil rights activists around the world. In the 1920s, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover targeted Garvey for his political activity as a leader of the Pan-African movement. Garvey was convicted in 1923 on a charge of mail fraud and sentenced to five years in jail. His charges and conviction effectively ended Garvey’s political movement and eventually led to his deportation back to Jamaica. This is Marcus Garvey’s son, Dr. Julius Garvey of the Justice4Garvey movement, speaking in August.

DR. JULIUS GARVEY: The civil rights movement started with Marcus Garvey. That’s acknowledged by Brother Malcolm, it’s acknowledged by Martin Luther King, and it’s acknowledged by anybody who knows history. The president stands on that foundation. … So, we think that the time is now to exonerate Marcus Garvey by a presidential posthumous pardon, and that’s why we’re here. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: And we’ll be joined by Julius Garvey in just a second. President Calvin Coolidge commuted Marcus Garvey’s sentence in 1927; however, the commutation still left Garvey’s conviction in place. So we’re going to ask Marcus Garvey’s son, Dr. Julius Garvey, about his case. He’s a cardiothoracic and vascular surgeon who’s leading the Justice4Garvey effort.

It’s great to have you with us, Dr. Garvey. Welcome to Democracy Now!

DR. JULIUS GARVEY: Thank you so much for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us what you’re doing.

DR. JULIUS GARVEY: Well, basically, we have placed before the president a petition for the posthumous pardon of my father. And it’s well documented in terms of the legal aspect of it, because that’s the foundation. The moral aspect of it is separate, as is the political aspect. But the legal aspect of it was prepared by a well-known law firm, Akin Gump Hauer. And they have spent almost two years, really, working on it and going through the case as it existed—I mean, there are thousands of pages, etc.—as well as the appeal, which was also denied. So, it’s a well-prepared document that shows that there was no evidence, that there was a prejudiced judge, there was perjury. The only evidence was an empty envelope, which was stamped with the Black Star Line on it, no writing, no evidence that it was handled in any way by Marcus Garvey. Nobody knew what was in it, because the person who presented the envelope couldn’t remember what was inside the envelope. And also, he was a perjured witness in that he was told by the prosecuting attorney to lie about the contents and whether he worked with the UNIA, etc. So, you know, it’s—

AMY GOODMAN: But before we go into all of that, for people, especially young people—


AMY GOODMAN: —who have not heard of your father, talk about the context in which all of that took place.


AMY GOODMAN: Talk about who Marcus Garvey was.

DR. JULIUS GARVEY: Yeah, it was a very important time, because this was early 20th century. My father formed the organization Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League in 1914 in Jamaica, West Indies, came to the United States in 1916. And, of course, this was 1914-'18 war, the First World War, the so-called Great War. And there was a large movement of African Americans from the agricultural South coming to the North, because there were jobs that were available now in terms of the industrialization process to back up the war machinery. And many young, quote, “white men” had gone to war, so there were many jobs up North, so there was this migration. So, we had, you might say, Southern African Americans, who had been subjected to, you might say, the lack of Reconstruction, whether subjected to the Black Codes and Jim Crow laws and so on, coming up North and being able to be employed in the industrial process, and then, in a sense, asking themselves now, “Well, what is freedom? How do I manage my future? You know, I've been sharecropping. I’ve been subjected to Southern injustice. Here I am in the North, I mean, what is my dimension of freedom? You know, what are my citizenship rights? What are my human rights as a person?”

And my father, in a sense, had the answer, because he had been all over the world, and he had seen the conditions of African people in the Caribbean, on the continent and also now in the Americas. And his idea was really to unite African people around the world, because it was a process that had subjugated them. Now, this was 400 years of slavery and, you know, 50 or so years of colonialism. Colonialism, you know, started in 1885 with the Berlin Conference, where now Africa was simply invaded and dispensed to different European groups, who just took over and, you know, reduced populations to peonage. And, of course, post-slavery, you know, there was no assessment of the needs of African people who had been enslaved for such a long time. So there was no reparations for African people. The reparations was for the slaveowners. So, African people were destitute all around the world because of slavery, because of colonialism. And Marcus Garvey felt that—my dad felt that, you know, it was important to unite African people, because with that unity we will have some strength in terms of our resources, human and otherwise.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let’s turn to Marcus Garvey in his own words, speaking in 1921 shortly after returning from a long tour of the Caribbean and Central America.

MARCUS GARVEY: It is for me to inform you that the Universal Negro Improvement Association is an organization that seeks to unite, into one solid body, the 400 million Negroes of the world, to link up the 50 million Negroes of the United States of America with the 20 million Negroes of the West Indies, the 40 million Negroes of South and Central America, with the 280 million Negroes of Africa, for the purpose of bettering our industrial, commercial, educational, social and political conditions. As you are aware, the world in which we live today is divided into separate race groups and distinct nationalities. Each race and each nationality is endeavoring to work out its own destiny to the exclusion of other races and other nationalities. We hear the cry of “England for the Englishman,” of “France for the Frenchman,” of “Germany for the German,” of “Ireland for the Irish,” of “Palestine for the Jew,” of “Japan for the Japanese,” of “China for the Chinese.” We of the Universal Negro Improvement Association are raising the cry of “Africa for the Africans,” those at home and those abroad. There are 400 million Africans in the world who have Negro blood coursing through their veins, and we believe that the time has come to unite these 400 million people for the one common purpose of bettering their condition.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And let’s go to more of Marcus Garvey from July 1921.

MARCUS GARVEY: We want to unite the Negro race in this country. We want every Negro to work for one common object, that of building a nation of his own on the great continent of Africa. That all Negroes all over the world are working for the establishment of a government in Africa means that it will be realized in another few years. We want the moral and financial support of every Negro to make this dream a possibility. Our race, this organization, has established itself in Nigeria, West Africa, and it endeavors to do all possible to develop that Negro country to become a great industrial and commercial commonwealth. Pioneers have been sent by this organization to Nigeria, and they are now laying the foundations upon which the 400 million Negroes of the world will build. If you believe that the Negro has a soul, if you believe that the Negro is a man, if you believe the Negro was endowed with the senses commonly given to other men by the creator, then you must acknowledge that what other men have done, Negroes can do. We want to build up cities, nations, governments, industries of our own in Africa, so that we will be able to have a chance to rise from the lowest to the highest position in the African commonwealth.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Marcus Garvey speaking in July 1921. So, Julius Garvey, can you tell us what happened to him and what you’re calling for now and whether you think there’s any prospect that Obama will grant a posthumous pardon?

DR. JULIUS GARVEY: Yes. Well, basically, he was targeted by J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI as early as 1919. He called him a Negro agitator up in Harlem who was agitating for radical measures of uplifting African people. So he infiltrated my father’s organization. The first black FBI agent was hired at that point in time to infiltrate the organization, and there were many others. So, Hoover and the Justice Department were looking for some means to criminalize Marcus Garvey so that he could be deported, because he was an immigrant. He had filed his first papers, but they were keeping him from becoming a full citizen. Every time he left the country and so on, they wouldn’t grant him visas to come back in, etc., etc. He had an attempt on his life by someone who came into the Liberty Hall, shot three shots at him. Two sort of hit him, grazed him, one in his leg. That person ended up, quote, “committing suicide,” within 24 hours after he was arrested, in prison. So, you know, he said he wasn’t going to take the rap for himself.

So, there was a concerted effort, you know, by whomever, but we do know also of J. Edgar Hoover. And they were trying everything—the Mann Act, of course, you know, transporting a woman across the state line. The woman was my mother, his wife. Of course, she wasn’t my mother yet at that point in time, but she was his wife. They were looking at him for tax evasion, you know, and they were looking at him about the Black Star Line, which was his signature economic project to trade between Africa, the Caribbean and the United States. So, again, you know, the whole idea was a political trial to destroy him and, hence, destroy the movement.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you heard from the White House?

DR. JULIUS GARVEY: No, we have not heard back anything from the White House.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to do Part 2 of this fascinating discussion of your father, Marcus Garvey’s life in a post-show discussion, and we’re going to post it online at democracynow.org. Dr. Julius Garvey is a cardiothoracic and vascular surgeon who’s leading the Justice4Garvey effort seeking a posthumous presidential pardon for his father, the civil rights leader Marcus Garvey.

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Part 2: Marcus Garvey’s Family Asks President Obama for a Posthumous Pardon

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