President Obama: you must pardon Marcus Mosiah Garvey. It is the right thing to do.

Garvey was unjustly convicted by a federal conspiracy 93 years ago and justice demands his formal exoneration now!

When white Americans know anything at all about 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 black people “back to Africa,” in order to liberate that continent from colonialism, and to remove the former enslaved Africans 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 elusive, never-to-be-achieved goal.

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 as 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 and African Communities League, attracting 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.

His 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.

False 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’d convicted him recommended his pardon or the commutation of his sentence.

On Dec. 2, 1927, Garvey’s sentence was commuted and he was released from prison. He was transferred from Atlanta Federal Prison to New Orleans, where he was immediately deported aboard the S.S. Sarmacca to his native Jamaica.

Now, almost 90 years after Garvey was deported, another Garvey movement is growing. Led by Garvey’s son, New York surgeon Julius Garvey, it is calling on President Obama to issue a full pardon of innocence to Marcus Mosiah Garvey. It takes the evidence from a concurrent resolution which began in the House of Representatives “expressing the sense of the Congress that the mail fraud charges brought against Marcus Garvey by the Federal Government were not substantiated and that his conviction on those charges was unjust and unwarranted.” I agree.

In 1987, coinciding with Garvey’s 100th birth anniversary, a House Judiciary subcommittee chaired by John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) held hearings to examine Garvey’s unjust conviction.

It was not the first Congressional proposal to pardon him, as Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) — as unlikely a supporter as you’ll get — offered an amendment to the Martin Luther King holiday bill in 1983, calling for Congress to “remove this cloud over the reputation” by giving him a full pardon.

“Marcus Garvey had a dream, and it was the dream of thousands of black Americans. It was the dream of black achievement, of black participation in the free enterprise system, and of black leadership throughout the world,” the segregationist Helms said.

I agree with Garvey’s great ambition. I believe, like Garvey, that black people can, through organization, “shake the pillars of the universe.”

Garvey said: “Remember that you are men, that God created you Lords of this creation. Lift up yourselves, men, take yourselves out of the mire and hitch your hopes to the stars; yes, rise as high as the very stars themselves.”

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Askia Muhammad

WPFW News Director Askia Muhammad is also a poet, and a photojournalist. He is Senior Editor for The Final Call newspaper and he writes a weekly column in The Washington Informer.

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