The Honorable Marcus Garvey
A bid to secure a posthumous presidential pardon for Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jamaica’s first national hero, has been rejected out of hand by the Barack Obama White House in Washington.
But the Administration’s rejection is unlikely to end the campaign in and out of the United States, Jamaica and elsewhere to clear the name of the iconic figure.
Garvey, who led the greatest mass movement of Blacks in the United States in the first half of the 20th century and is often credited by historians and other experts with promoting the economic, social and political interests of the ordinary Black person as no other had been able to do for more than half a century, had a following that ran into the millions in the Western Hemisphere. He was convicted in U.S. federal court in the 1920s of mail fraud and was incarcerated for almost three years before he was released and deported to Jamaica. He died in London in 1940 and was initially buried there but his remains were exhumed from Kensal Green Cemetery in 1964 and returned to Jamaica where they were re-interred at National Heroes Park in Kingston.
In a letter to Donovan Parker, a Jamaican attorney in Florida, who has been writing to the U.S. President every week requesting clemency, Ronald Rogers, White House pardon attorney, stated that the limited resources of the Justice Department would be better spent on other requests for presidential clemency.
“It is the general policy of the Department of Justice that requests for posthumous pardons for federal offences not be processed for adjudication,” Rogers told Parker in a sharply worded response. “The policy is grounded in the belief that the time of the officials involved in the clemency process is better spent on pardon and commutation requests of living persons.
“Many posthumous pardon requests would likely be based on a claim of manifest injustice, and given the decades that have passed since the event and the historical record would have been scoured to objectively and comprehensively investigate such applications, it is the Department’s position that the limited resources which are available to process requests for presidential clemency–now being submitted in record numbers–are best dedicated to requests submitted by persons who can benefit from a grant of the request,” Rogers stated.
In a letter to the White House, Parker described Garvey as a “leading forbearer of the African-American civil rights experience.”
He said that “it is full time that this extra-ordinary human being of humble beginnings and strong moral character be pardoned by the pen of an American President. It would be fitting if both you, Mr. President, and the first lady visit Jamaica for the purpose of signing the executive order pardoning Marcus Mosiah Garvey.”
After receiving the White House rejection, Parker said that he disappointed and urged Pamela Bridgewater, U.S. Ambassador in Jamaica, to join in the call for the pardon.
“I believe there has been no coordinated effort to get this issue in front of the President,” Parker said. “I think if President Obama reads it (the request), he will sign it.”
What has upset many supporters of the clemency application was the tone of Roger’s reply, which Miguel Lorne of the Marcus Garvey founded People’s Political Alliance found unacceptable.
“The language used in the reply was most disdainful. It makes you wonder if Obama actually read the request,” he said. “Obama must know about Garvey, who is the forerunner of the civil rights movement. It is most disappointing.”
Legal experts and other who have studied the Garvey case have long concluded that he was framed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and wrongfully convicted.
Successive Jamaican governments and their leaders, including Edward Seaga, of the Jamaica Labor Party, and Portia Simpson-Miller, the country’s first female Prime Minister, have called for the pardon but it has not been granted by either Republican or Democratic Presidents.