The Jamaican-born orator, politician, journalist and entrepreneur Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr. (1887 – 1940) believed that persons of African descent living in the Diaspora should “redeem” the nations of Africa, leave those places once dominated by European colonial power and return to the “continent.”
His passion would inspire him develop a Pan-African philosophy undergirded by the importance of economic empowerment known as Garveyism and his founding the Universal Negro Improvement Association – both of which would inspire people of color including the Nation of Islam and the Rastafari movement to seek their destinies separate from their former captors.
However, his zeal to help his people from the Diaspora would eventually lead to his demise as he became the target of powerful whites including FBI leader J. Edgar Hoover and his prosecution by the U.S. federal government.
In 1923, following a highly controversial trial, Garvey was sentenced to five years in prison, convicted of using the mail service to defraud the government because of his Black Star Line, Inc. – a ship he hoped to use to transport people of color back to Africa.
In his famous “First Message to the Negroes of the World from Atlanta Prison,” penned in 1925 after several appeals for the dismissal of his charges failed, he uttered his famous proclamation: “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.”
Garvey’s sentence, while eventually commuted by President Calvin Coolidge, did not keep officials from deporting him to Jamaica upon his release from prison in November 1927.
Now his son, Dr. Julius Garvey, 83, a semi-retired vascular surgeon from New York, has taken on the mission to clear his father’s name and secure a posthumous presidential pardon.
Dr. Garvey visited the District last week to view an exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture [NMAAHC] that showcases the legacy of Marcus Garvey. He said the importance of history is that it serves as a means of instruction and encouragement for us all.
“We all stand on the shoulders of our ancestors – they are the roots to our tree,” Garvey said. “I hope our youth will find their way to this new museum so they can learn the truth about us. The world was not born yesterday – before social media there were many other ways to communicate and people had ideas and a consciousness that helped them find ways to improve society.”
“The stories revealed at this museum will facilitate a needed understanding of how America was created and how Blacks contributed to that growth. More important it will help us all understand what America means to its people – Native Americans, immigrants, Blacks – we all must have knowledge that helps us understand where we came from and where we’re going. And as I take time with the exhibit honoring my father, I will be spending quality time where I can catch up on my history.”
Asked what he thinks his father would say, if he were still alive, he said: “He’d say not enough has changed in the last 100 years. In 1917, Blacks, mostly men, were lynched without provocation or cause. Today they’re shooting innocent, unarmed Black men in the streets. Why haven’t we come together as a people and as a nation? God is not pleased. My father would not be pleased,” Dr. Garvey said.
Dr. Garvey said while he’s pleased that his father’s exhibit stands on its own, he still remains determined to have the stain that continues to tarnish his father’s reputation and brands him a criminal erased.
“It’s time to recognize his legacy and the meaning of liberation for which he so vigorously fought on behalf of African people all around the world. It’s time for us to recognize the truth,” he said.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Garvey needs your help in order to secure a pardon for his father, Marcus Garvey. He needs 100,000 signatures that will be sent to President Obama and anyone can sign, regardless of their age, as long as they have a valid ID. Go to www.Justice4Garvey.org or the direct link for the petition, http://bit.ly/2cCzc92.