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

Web ExclusiveDecember 22, 2016
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Marcus Garvey was a pioneering figure in the Black Freedom struggle in the early 20th century. He inspired generations of civil rights activists around the world from Malcolm X to Nelson Mandela. Martin Luther King once said, "[Garvey] was the first man of color to lead and develop a mass movement. He was the first man on a mass scale and level to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny. And make the Negro feel he was somebody." 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. Today his family is asking President Obama for a posthumous pardon. We speak to his son, Dr. Julius Garvey.

Watch Part 1 || Marcus Garvey Inspired Millions, from MLK to Mandela; Now His Son Is Asking Obama to Pardon Him

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, with Part 2 of our conversation with Marcus Garvey’s son Julius Garvey.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We continue to look at a request by the family of Marcus Garvey to grant him a posthumous pardon. Marcus Garvey was 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.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that Marcus Garvey was, quote, "the first man of color to lead and develop a mass movement. He was the first man on a scale and level to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny. And make the Negro feel he was somebody." Again, those the words of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Recalling his father in his autobiography, Malcolm X said, "The image of him that made me proudest was his crusading and militant campaigning with the words of Marcus Garvey. ... [I]t was only me that he sometimes took with him to the Garvey U.N.I.A. meetings which he held quietly in different people’s homes." Again, those the words of Malcolm X about his father.

Still with us, Marcus Garvey’s son, Julius Garvey, a cardiothoracic surgeon who is leading the Justice4Garvey effort, in Part 2 of our conversation.

So, very quickly, go through what the UNIA was, what the Black Star Line was and then how he ends up, your dad, Marcus Garvey, in court.

DR. JULIUS GARVEY: It’s a little bit difficult to do it quickly, but the UNIA—

AMY GOODMAN: Or not so quickly.

DR. JULIUS GARVEY: —Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, was an organization designed to unite all African people under one umbrella to push for our liberation as a people. We had gotten our freedom, so to speak, from physical slavery, but the psychological aspect of it was still evident, and also we were still marginalized in terms of our economic ability. So part of the UNIA platform was to develop an economic base among us as an African people. And that would be the foundation for everything else—educational, cultural, etc.

AMY GOODMAN: Where did your dad, Marcus Garvey, get his inspiration from?

DR. JULIUS GARVEY: Well, it’s hard to say, in that, you know, I think he was a genius, so you get your inspiration from yourself as somebody who is a visionary and is seeing something new. But basically, you know, he left Jamaica early. First of all, he was a printer. He was very much used to the word. And his father had a significant library, at least for those days in terms of Afro-Jamaican peasantry—his father was a mason. And he traveled throughout the Caribbean, throughout Central America—Costa Rica, Panama. He worked on the Panama Canal. He worked on the railroad in Costa Rica. Then he traveled to Europe, in England, all over Europe, and then met many students. He worked for a magazine called African Times and Orient Review. The editor was somebody named Dusé Mohamed Ali, who was an Egyptian who had a great library in terms of African history and so on and so forth. So—but he learned a lot about Africa, you know, from that situation. He was a voracious reader. If you read his books, you’ll see him say that you should read, you know, every minute of the day. He, himself, read four hours a day. So, he was one of those sponge people who could soak up information. Again, if you read his speeches, you’ll see that his vision was really worldwide. So he saw the conditions of African people everywhere, and he was both analytic and then he could synthesize what he saw and what was needed.

And then, the crown that you might say, he read Booker T. Washington’s book, Up from Slavery. And that also impressed him in a way that—how African people could use that as a foundation, meaning education, industrial education, in particular, as a basis, because that was the actual foundation for economic development. So he corresponded with Booker T., came to the United States, even though Booker T. had died in 1915, but he came in 1916, went to Tuskegee, spoke to Dr. Moton, who was in charge there, and so on. So, his idea was to duplicate that in Jamaica and, you know, throughout the Caribbean, etc., etc.

He ended up traveling in the United States, and, on his own dime, he went through 38 states in one year, seeing the conditions in the South and so on, and, as we mentioned, the agricultural South, the industrial North, the conditions under which people lived.

AMY GOODMAN: And this was when?

DR. JULIUS GARVEY: This would have been, again, from 1916 to 1917. This was when he did that. And then, his plan was still to go back to Jamaica, although he established a branch of the UNIA in New York. But, again, the politics of the situation, every time he developed the organization to the extent where he thought he could leave, then there were communists and there were other people who were trying to take over the organization as a black organization. And he ended up being requested to stay. And he stayed, and that became the headquarters. So, that was when the movement took off here in the United States, because of those conditions that I mentioned. There were African Americans coming back from World War I who were being lynched in their uniforms. There was the riot in East St. Louis and so on.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s go to that riot.

DR. JULIUS GARVEY: There was the Red Summer of—sure, sure.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to that riot in East St. Louis in July of 1917, which became the scene of one of the bloodiest race riots in the 20th century. Mobs of whites set fire to the homes of black residents, beat, shot, lynched men, women and children. Marcus Garvey spoke out against the violence in an emergency meeting in Harlem, marking the expansion of his movement to include American race relations. This is a clip from the PBS American Experience documentary Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind. It’s an actor reading Garvey’s speech.

MARCUS GARVEY: [read by Ron Bobb-Semple] The whole thing, my friends, is a bloody farce. That the police and soldiers did nothing to stem the murder thirst of the mob is conclusive proof of conspiracy on the part of the civil authorities to condone the acts of the white mob against Negroes. White people are taking advantage of black men today because black men all over the world are disunited.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s an actor reading Marcus Garvey’s words about the race riot of July ’17 in East St. Louis. Six years later, in 1923, your father, Julius Garvey, was convicted of mail fraud, targeted by J. Edgar Hoover. Some might be surprised to know J. Edgar Hoover went so far back. And talk about the Black Star Line, how they got him, his imprisonment, deportation to Jamaica and then your birth.

DR. JULIUS GARVEY: OK. I was present at my birth, but I can’t say too much about it.

But, you know, my dad was targeted by J. Edgar Hoover, who was a young lad out of law school. And here he was in the Bureau of Investigation; it wasn’t yet the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And he was looking for a way to make a name for himself. And he was very, very active against, quote, "radicals"—communists, etc., etc. He put my father into that category and sought a way to criminalize him in some way. And as I mentioned, they thought about all kinds of things, in terms of the Mann Act, in terms of tax evasion. Whatever they thought would stick, they were trying to make a case.

So, they thought they could make a case with the Black Star Line, which was a major economic venture at that particular time. So, this was the charge that they brought up against him. Initially, they brought the charge against him, and then they realized that they couldn’t bring a charge against him, because it wasn’t a private company. So then they had to put three other guys from the UNIA up on the same conspiracy now to commit mail fraud. So, that was the charge. But, of course, the other guys were let go, and Marcus Garvey was the only one that ended up being charged and then convicted. As I mentioned, there was no evidence. There was an empty envelope. There was perjury. The judge should have recused himself. The prosecutor perjured himself, as well as the witness perjured himself, and so on. So, there are a myriad of things which, again, is well documented by the law firm Akin Gump, who has presented this petition to the president. He was convicted, and they wouldn’t even allow him bail. And he stayed in the Tombs prison for three months, and not allowing him bail. I mean, this was how destructive they were of him. They seized the books of the UNIA. They seized the books of the Black Star Line, etc. So business could not continue. So it was definitely a concerted effort to destroy Marcus Garvey and to destroy the organization that he had created.

Then there was an appeal. The appeal was turned down, despite the fact that the attorneys for my dad showed all the inconsistencies in the case. And the attorney, Armin Kohn, that represented my dad, he said, in his 25 years before the American Bar, he had never seen a case with such malicious political intent against anybody as the case against Marcus Garvey. He was imprisoned in Atlanta and spent a little more than two-and-a-half years there. And then, Calvin Coolidge, on the advice of his district attorney, because there was a lot of agitation for his release—I mean, there were marches. There were petitions. There were, you know, representations to different senators and so on and so forth. Churches would have a Garvey Sunday, where they would pray for Marcus Garvey, and so on and so forth. So there was significant agitation all along within the black community. And the attorney general went through the case and said, "You know what? This situation is untenable." And I think also there was an election coming up and stuff like that. "Let’s commute the sentence, but then we’re going to deport him." See, so that he could not then reconstitute the movement. And that’s exactly what they did. And the same thing, the deportation was a subterfuge, because his lawyer was not informed, you see? And the deportation really wasn’t correct. I mean, there was no legal reason for him to be deported, without him even having the ability to take care of his business and so on, conclude business. So, anyway, that happened, and then he was sent back to Jamaica.

Now, in Jamaica, he resumed his political efforts and the organization from there. But again, I mean, the whole thing was really not simply an American thing. I mean, the British government, the French government and the American government, they were all in collusion. They were exchanging information about Marcus Garvey, about the UNIA. And it got to a situation where mail that was coming to Marcus Garvey from the United States, mail from Marcus Garvey in Jamaica to the United States was being tampered with and would not be delivered. It was marked as not deliverable. So—

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s real mail fraud.

DR. JULIUS GARVEY: That’s real mail fraud. It’s interesting. I never thought about it that way. But, you know, tampering with the U.S. mail, of course, it was done by the Justice Department or the mail department, whatever—you know, so courts that made it legal. But, of course, that restricted, you know, any means of communication, because mail was the major means of communication. It’s also restricted money from traveling from the United States, you know, from the members in the United States to support the organization now, because the headquarters were transferred to Kingston. So, you know, it was a concerted effort.

And then, in Jamaica, he started the first political party, the first labor movement. And part of the platform of the political party in Jamaica—it was the People’s Political Party—was that, you know, if judges misbehaved against the population, you know, they should be brought up on trial and sent back to England and so on and so forth. Well, of course, the Colonial Office said, "Oh, no, you can’t talk about judges like that. They represent the queen." So he was—he was charged with contempt of court and given three months in jail for having that on a political platform, that judges, if they are dishonest, you know, should be accused as such and convicted. So, anyway, you know, so the whole process continued. As I said, it was a collusion, whether it was the British government, the American government, the French government or wherever.

And his newspapers, many, many places that they would not go. In the old days, there was Dahomey, and the penalty of having the Negro World in your possession was death. I mean, that’s how severe it was. Many people, of course—

AMY GOODMAN: The newspaper.

DR. JULIUS GARVEY: Yeah, the newspaper. And, you know, Jomo Kenyatta tells the story of, in Kenya, when the Negro World would come, somebody would read it to a group of villagers, and they would memorize the stories and especially the editorial page of the Negro World and then run off into the different villages to carry the word, you know? So, but there was significant harassment all over.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to turn to Nelson Mandela addressing the U.S. Congress in 1990, shortly after his release from 27 years in a South African jail.

NELSON MANDELA: We could not have heard of and admired John Brown, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr. and others. We could not have heard of this and not be moved to act as they were moved to act.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So could you talk about Mandela, Mandela’s words and—


NERMEEN SHAIKH: —Mandela, among so many of your father’s admirers?

DR. JULIUS GARVEY: Yes. You know, the UNIA penetrated all over Africa, particularly South Africa. And it was present at the birth of the ANC, the African National Congress. It was, you know, an existing organization, and many West Indians were there. They had gone there as immigrants, or they had gone there as sailors and then stayed there. And so, there was that nucleus of Caribbean people who were there, and they formed the organization along with many other South Africans, so that the first all-colored people’s conference that took in South Africa was coordinated by the UNIA, among other groups. And the ideology of the UNIA was dominant in terms of it being a nationalist, if you will, ideology for the rights and freedoms of African people, so it was very, very significant. And, of course, you know, Nelson Mandela grew up in that. He was part of the Youth League and so on. And it’s interesting. I met Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Ndaba Mandela, and he told me how much his grandfather, you know, told him about the influence that Marcus Garvey had on him when he was growing up as a young man, in terms of black consciousness and, you know, the rights of African people within South Africa. So, Nelson Mandela was one of those that Marcus Garvey influenced, as well as people in South-West Africa, which is now, of course, Namibia.


DR. JULIUS GARVEY: The president—the previous president, he was, quote, "a disciple" of Marcus Garvey, very strong. And, you know, I had an opportunity recently to visit both South Africa and Namibia. And we gave a lecture, the Sobukwe lecture, which is an annual lecture, and the Steve Biko Foundation was the one that invited me, along with the Sobukwe Foundation. And, you know, Marcus Garvey is very well received in South Africa and, of course, as we know, Ghana and Nigeria and Kenya.

AMY GOODMAN: Sam Nujoma, very influenced—

DR. JULIUS GARVEY: Sam Nujoma, yes, absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: —by Marcus Garvey.

DR. JULIUS GARVEY: By my father, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Just very quickly, there was an intense rivalry between your dad, Marcus Garvey, and W.E.B. Du Bois—


AMY GOODMAN: —something that I think later in his life W.E.B. Du Bois said he regretted.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about that?

DR. JULIUS GARVEY: Yes. You know, it is, you know, somewhat of a very touchy subject, because, to a large extent, Du Bois is revered by many people. And, you know, he certainly was an historian and, to some degree, a sociologist, but he didn’t have the vision of Marcus Garvey or the understanding in terms of world affairs, and his mindset was different. It was more of a colonial subject’s mindset. And what I mean by that, he propounded the philosophy of the talented tenth, and, you know, somehow the top 10 percent of Africans in America or wherever should be schooled in civilization, so to speak, and given certain privileges or whatever, and then that would trickle down to the mass of black people. My father was a bottom-up person, meaning that the mass of people had to be educated and lifted up, and they had to do it pretty much of on their own in terms of their validity and identity as human beings.

And plus the fact that, you know, Du Bois was no politician, and he didn’t really have a stable ideology, meaning that he was a communist at one time, a socialist another time. He was an integrationist at one time, being part of the NAACP in its early days and so on. He was kicked out of that. You know, he was branded as a communist, so I think his passport was taken away and so on. So, he went through all of these changes.

And at the time when, quote, they were "rivals," you know, the NAACP was struggling to get less than a quarter of a million, you know, members; Marcus Garvey had 6 million members worldwide. So, this was part of, you know, I think, W.E.B. Du Bois’ angst. You know, he considered himself educated, with a Ph.D. and so on, and he considered Marcus Garvey not educated, because he didn’t have the label of, you know, a Western university, whereas, you know, my dad was so well read. And again, he was a visionary, so I don’t think there was any comparison. But you are right: W.E.B. Du Bois did change his tone and realized that Marcus Garvey was right. He ended up in Ghana. Kwame Nkrumah gave him a job there, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Calvin Coolidge commuted your father’s sentence in 1927.


AMY GOODMAN: But you’re seeking a pardon from President Obama.


AMY GOODMAN: Why do you see this as the last chance to get such a pardon?

DR. JULIUS GARVEY: Well, you know, we have—

AMY GOODMAN: And what would it mean, that pardon?

DR. JULIUS GARVEY: Yeah, we’ve gone the other routes. The only thing we haven’t done is to sue the government, which, you know, is a no—no-winner. So we wouldn’t bother trying that.

But from way back in 1981, '82, when Reagan came to office, the prime minister of Jamaica, Eddie Seaga, came up to Reagan. I think he was the first foreign dignitary that Reagan had at the White House. And he asked Reagan to expunge Marcus Garvey's record. Of course, that was denied. And every prime minister of Jamaica has spoken to every president—you know, P.J. Patterson and so on and so forth. And also, the current prime minister, Holness, has expressed this desire. Portia Simpson did. President Obama was in Jamaica six months ago or whatever, and she asked him, you know, about that. So, that request has been made by all of the prime ministers of Jamaica.

In the Congress of the United States, going all the way back to 1987, which was the centenary year of my father’s birth, John Conyers had us down. He was head of the House Judiciary Committee. So there were a large number of us—John Henrik Clarke, myself, my brother, Tony Martin, Judith Stein and so on. We were down there giving testimony to the House Judiciary Committee of why Marcus Garvey should be exonerated, what his legacy was and so on and so forth. Well, it never really got out of the House Judiciary Committee. Congressman Rangel, later on, from about 2004, had House resolutions asking for the exoneration of Marcus Garvey. And again, you know, year after year after year, he has presented that to the Congress.

So, that kind of brings us up to date. You know, we’ve tried all of these measures, different people have, and we’ve worked with them. And we have a president now who, you know, his second term, you know, is ending office, and he has the privilege to be able to give posthumous pardons. So, this, in a sense, is, you might say, the only door left open to us. You know, from our perspective, "pardon" means that somebody has committed something, and you’re pardoning them, but we don’t think he has committed any crime. So, while we have to accept a pardon, we think it’s an exoneration, because the evidence, as presented to justify the pardon, shows that there was no crime and it was a political setup. So, we’re hoping that the president understands it from that perspective and that he will use the executive privilege within the last few weeks that are left, in terms of his office, to grant that pardon.

AMY GOODMAN: Has President Obama ever referenced Marcus Garvey?

DR. JULIUS GARVEY: You know, some people have asked me that, and I’m not sure that he has. But somebody told me that he taught that in school, because he taught constitutional law at Harvard. And I was told that he taught Marcus Garvey. So he must have read Marcus Garvey at some point. But I don’t have, you know, direct evidence myself. But Charles Ogletree, you know, from Harvard, who was a teacher of both President Obama and Michelle Obama, he has signed our petition, and he’s a strong supporter.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we would like to end with a quote of Marcus Garvey. We don’t have this recorded, so we’d like you to read it. And this was Marcus Garvey’s writings while he was in prison in Atlanta.

DR. JULIUS GARVEY: "When I am dead wrap the mantle of 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."

AMY GOODMAN: Julius Garvey, we thank you so much for being with us, to presenting your father’s story to us, Marcus Garvey. Julius Garvey is leading the Justice4Garvey effort, seeking a posthumous presidential pardon for his father, human rights leader Marcus Garvey. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

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