Talks have begun once again about the exoneration of Marcus Garvey in the United States. In the past few weeks, a petition has been circulating, seeking the signatures of 100,000 supporters. This is not the first time such an effort has been attempted. Several other petitions have been circulated before, including one in 2016 lead by Dr. Julius Garvey seeking President Obama’s pardoning before he demitted office.
For those of you who don’t know, Marcus Garvey had been imprisoned in the U.S. for allegedly attempting to use the postal system to defraud persons. J. Edgar Hoover was an agent of the State who seemed to have been obsessed with taking down Garvey. So, he arranged for agents to infiltrate the UNIA to spy on Garvey. Eventually, one of them reported that the Negro World was going to run an advertisement offering shares in the Black Star Line for sale. The problem with that was, a picture of a ship that the UNIA had not finished paying for was used for the advertisement. So, this was considered false advertising, and the offer of sale of shares was construed as fraud through the use of the postal service.
Garvey, along with three UNIA officers, was brought to trial in 1923. Despite the lack of credible evidence, Garvey was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison, in addition to being fined $1,000 and having to pay legal costs. The three officers were acquitted of the charges. Garvey filed an appeal, and for over a year, he fought the false allegations whilst the Immigration Department sought to deport him. His appeal was denied and so he was arrested again and taken to the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary in February 1925 to serve his original 5-year sentence.
It is evident that Garvey’s arrest and subsequent imprisonment was in an effort to silence him. The authorities were afraid of how he was empowering Black people in the U.S. and of the power he had garnered. So, they began to track his activities until they came up with a plan that would discredit his legitimacy as a leader and visionary in the eyes of his supporters. President Coolidge recognized this, after he and his lawyer reviewed the case. Consequently, he commuted Garvey’s sentence in November 1927, but ordered him deported back to Jamaica.
Garvey’s family and the wider Jamaica have always maintained Garvey’s innocence, and as such, have been seeking to clear the hero’s name by seeking exoneration. Of note, as stated by former Prime Minister of Jamaica, P.J. Patterson, pardoning is different from exonerating. “Pardons are to grant immunity or to remove any legal disabilities such as the right to vote, which convicted felons do not have. Exoneration is for the innocent, those who should have been acquitted at trial because there was no wrongdoing. It is my contention, there was no evidence given during the trial on which a conviction could be based.” Therefore, Garvey should be exonerated and this should be of great importance and priority, first and foremost, because it is the right thing to do as he was not guilty. In addition, being a National Hero of Jamaica, we would love if our hero did not have a criminal record. Garvey had a great impact on the world, especially Blacks worldwide, and for that, he should be honoured and his efforts lauded and not criminalized.
Recently, the Governor General of Jamaica, Sir Patrick Allen, announced that efforts to push for Garvey’s exoneration in the U.S would be stepped up. He said, “The 60th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence and the establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States of America, provide a fitting context for advancing the process of clearing the name of the Right Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jamaica’s first National Hero.” He further added, “To that end, the Government will utilise the avenues available to intercede with the Government of the United States of America, building on past and existing efforts to lift this stain of his wrongful conviction.”
It is admirable that our Government has decided to steer the push to clear Garvey’s name. This coincides with the most recent initiative by Dr. Julius Garvey to petition for his father’s exoneration. However, we should also push to have Garvey’s criminal record here expunged, as well, as he had not committed a crime when he was convicted for Contempt of Court, on two occasions in 1929. The first conviction resulted in him paying a fine of £25 because he had refused to turn over some records of the UNIA to the court during the case of Marke vs. The UNIA. However, he was convicted a second time because he called for the imprisonment of corrupt judges. This resulted in him being imprisoned, as well as being fined £100. Though his convictions were pardoned, on the 100th anniversary of his birth by then Governor General, Sir Florizel Glasspole, his records were never expunged. In 2018, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Olivia, “Babsy” Grange, submitted a Bill to absolve National Heroes of criminal liability. Whilst the Bill was approved by the Senate after some amendments were made, it is not certain what happened when it was returned to the Lower House as there has been no formal announcement that the Bill was carried through.
So, with 60 years of Independence upon us, let us assist every effort to clear the name of Marcus Garvey.