Marcus Mosiah Garvey the father of the Pan African movement and visionary leader who influenced prominent people around the globe – Kwame Nkrumah (former Prime Minister of Nigeria), Malcolm X (Black Muslim leader in the US), Dr. Martin Luther King (civil rights leader in the US), Bob Marley (Jamaican reggae artist), and many others.
Born in Jamaica in 1887, Marcus Garvey started his political activism seeking social justice for black Jamaicans who struggled under British colonialism. In 1916, he came to New York and started a chapter of his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Harlem. His main goal was to restore the dignity of black people in America and to make them more self-reliant. To this end, he organized them into what was said to be one of the largest black movement in America’s history.
Marcus Garvey was not only a visionary leader he was also a courageous leader as he was able to promote the UNIA at a time when the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was wary of black organizations and black leaders. It was therefore no surprise then, that the FBI had him in their cross-hairs. The young J. Edgar Hoover (who would later become head of the FBI) fresh out of law school was assigned to investigate Garvey.
Garvey in his effort to promote the economic reliance of blacks started a trading and shipping company called the Black Star liner. He had purchased a ship through the sales of stock. By then Hoover had used blacks to infiltrate the UNIA and eventually had him arrested for mail fraud. Incidentally, these were some of the same tactics that Hoover would use some forty years later to discredit Dr. Martin Luther King. Using some of Garvey’s enemies to testify against him in court, he was sentenced to five years in prison. After serving two years in a Louisiana prison, President Calvin Coolidge commuted his prison sentence and had him deported to Jamaica.
When Jamaica became an independent nation in 1962, Garvey was made one of its national heroes. Because of his global influence and status as a national hero, there have been a number of petitions (one led by his son Dr. Julius Garvey, a NY cardiac surgeon) to get the US to give Garvey a posthumous pardon. With the election of President Obama in 2008, there was optimism that he would grant Garvey this pardon.
If there was a good opportunity to get President Obama to pardon Garvey, it came when the president visited Jamaica in April 2015. It is hard to believe that then Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller would not have discussed Garvey’s pardon with the president. If she did not then that was a big missed opportunity.
In some ways, I am disappointed that President Obama has left office without pardoning Marcus Garvey. Disappointed because it was one of ten predictions I made in my book about President Obama – Whom God Has Blessed Let No Man Curse (Infinity Publishing, 2013). With President Obama out of office, the possibility of Garvey getting a pardon becomes even more remote now.
We know that the game of politics is about satisfying constituents who have a strong voice. Maybe if Garvey was an African-American he would have gotten his pardon long ago. And what if he is never pardoned? Nothing changes, because his legacy and influence will live on in the hearts of black people who are familiar with his work.
Note: I have a special connection to Marcus Mosiah Garvey. His son Marcus Garvey, Jr., taught me engineering science, physics, and mathematics in high school in Jamaica.
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