Today I attended a press conference hosted by Dr. Julius Garvey who is the younger son of journalist Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) to request a presidential pardon for Marcus Garvey. This press conference included several provocative points. The first was by Howard University History Professor Quito Swan who said that Garvey’s genius was building a mass movement.
Law Professor Justin Hansford, whose 2009 article was the inspiration for the initial petition to Obama regarding this case said that the unjust trial was attempt to silence Garvey’s movement for racial justice. He said “we come here 90 years later…to show our resistance still endures. We continue to fight to restore the legacy of Marcus Garvey, because he was the leaders of the largest racial justice movement that we’ve ever seen.” Professor Hansford said that he researched Marcus Garvey after learning that he was someone whom Malcolm X’s father worked with. Justin Hansford said that what Garvey did was make the point that Black people do not have to be at the bottom of social ladder. Professor Hansford made a very key point about how the narrative about Garvey’s legacy has been tarnished by the American narrative.. Hansford specifically cites David Cronon’s book “Black Moses” that he said refers to Garvey as a “buffoon.” I have also read this tarnishing of Garvey in Peniel Joseph’s biography “Stokely: A Life,” where on page 210 Joseph wrote that Garvey’s goal “expressed more of a personal desire than a collective sentiment.” Garvey’s goal of Black liberation was in fact a collective sentiment and not a personal desire. If it was only “a personal desire,” then there would not have been a successive number of independence movements in Caribbean, Africa and across the globe. This tarnishing of Garvey’s image is accomplished by not only white “historians” but Black “historians” as well.
Ambassador Attalah Shabazz, the eldest daughter of Malcolm X spoke and said that truth is not necessarily antagonistic, it is just so. She also read a letter of support for a presidential pardon from Judge Greg Mathis, arguing that a presidential pardon would help the troubled youth of our present generation. Ambassador Shabazz talked about her paternal grandmother, Louisa Norton from Grenada, was influenced along with her paternal grandfather Earl Little, by Marcus Garvey and how her household was rooted in those values.
The president of the Caribbean-American Political Action Committee, Dr. Goulda Downer said that Marcus Garvey played a key role in her Jamaican upbringing. She remembers her math teacher telling her Marcus Garvey’s famous words, “Up! Up! You Mighty Race! You can accomplish what you will!” These words confirmed that “regardless of our stations in life, if we took pride in our work, and added the discipline of studying, we would be successful. And we were.”
Dr. Garvey’s words about the importance of the presidential pardon his father were paramount. He said he had to grow up most of his life with the fact that his father was a convicted criminal: “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…[and what I knew about] the criminal conviction.” He said it was clear he “sacrificed his family for African people worldwide.” Dr. Garvey said that “what has kept us back has been European invasion and exploitation.” This exploitation continues despite the guise of equality, despite the guise of integration, or the guise of the first Black president. He said “I think we can draw a straight line between when my father first came to this country in 1916 and to now, 2016, and young Black men are still being shot in the streets.” I was hoping here that Dr. Garvey would add specifically his father’s visit to East Saint Louis in 1917 in the aftermath of the very violent race riot that his future newspaper editor Hubert Harrison said was instigated by the American Federation of Labor led by Samuel Gompers. Michael Brown was shot within 20 miles of that city in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 7th, 2014. Dr. Cornel West said at the 2015 Left Forum that President Obama spoke publicly about the death of Robin Williams, but not the cold blooded murder of Michael Brown. Dr. Garvey said what the #BlackLivesMatter movement shows us is that our children are tired of living in a society that marginalizes them.
Dr. Garvey said that the president stands on the foundation of the civil rights movement, leaders of whom like Malcolm X and Dr. King, stand on the shoulders of Marcus Garvey. Dr. Garvey talked about Jomo Kenyatta telling him how his father’s paper Negro World arrived in Kenya, where the Kikuyu would stand and listen, memorize the articles, and repeat the stories to their villages. This, he said, fueled their nationalism which gave rise to the resistance against British colonialism. If there was no Kenyan nationalism inspired by Jomo Kenyatta, then there could have been no Kenyan national who came to the United States to study.” The Kenyan national Dr. Garvey is referring to is Barack Obama, Senior, the father of current President Obama.
In the question and answer period, a member of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.) asked Kweisi Mfume whether the NAACP would be interested in supporting this pardon, and Mfume said that he sees no reason why the current NAACP would not support such a posthumous pardon.
Special thanks to Nkechi Taifa for moderating this important panel on the presidential pardon for Marcus Garvey.
Ways to support this presidential pardon include using the hashtag #Justice4Garvey on Twitter, and following the @drclairenelson, @icsdcorg, and @caribmonth Twitter sites. Stay tuned for the website on the exoneration of Marcus Garvey. -RF.