The family of Marcus Garvey is seeking support from the public for their petition to secure a posthumous presidential pardon of the civil rights pioneer. At least 100,000 signatures of support are needed by September 28 via the White House’s We the People platform to trigger the Obama administration’s response to a request for the pardon of Garvey, who was indicted for mail fraud by a U.S. court in 1923.
Recognized as a forefather of the Civil Rights Movement by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and numerous scholars, Garvey advocated for the development of economic opportunity as a source of black empowerment, launched the Black Star Line fleet, and founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association & African Communities League (UNIA-ACL), which at its height had 6 million members in 40 countries.
“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 that he was somebody,” said Dr. King. The subject of a politically motivated investigation by the FBI, Garvey was indicted for mail fraud in 1923 and sentenced to five years in federal prison. While President Calvin Coolidge commuted the sentence in November 1927, Garvey was deported back to his home country of Jamaica, effectively ending his movement for racial justice, social progress and economic independence for African Americans and reducing its effectiveness for African descendants worldwide.
For 30 years, Garvey’s descendants, led by his son Julius W. Garvey, M.D., along with members of Congress, civil society organizations, cities and states and international groups, have sought to finally and entirely clear Garvey’s name and restore his legacy.
A presidential pardon petition urging reconsideration of Garvey’s unjust arrest, trial and incarceration was filed with the Justice Department on June 24 and was announced at the National Press Club on August 17, which would have been Garvey’s 129th birthday.
Speaking at the event, Dr. Garvey said, “I had to grow up with the fact that my father was a convicted criminal, convicted in the United States of America which is the biggest and the strongest country in the world. It was very difficult for me as a young man to reconcile what I knew about my father, personally, and what I knew about my father from my mother, to reconcile that with a criminal conviction when it was clear he gave his whole life and sacrificed his family for African people worldwide.”
Howard University African Diaspora History professor Quito Swan and St. Louis University School of Law professor Justin Hansford were among the speakers who joined Garvey at the National Press Club. “Garvey’s genius was his ability to build the world’s most expansive Black mass movement, the likes of which have not been seen since. It’s now a time to right the wrongs,” said Swan.
Hansford, who represents the Garvey family along with Harvard Law School Professor Charles Ogletree and the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, concurs, “The reality is there’s never been a better time to do so. I believe we’re at a turning point in our racial justice history.”