Will Obama Exonerate Marcus Garvey Before Demitting Office?

Photo Credit: The White House.
Photo Credit: The White House.

What Would Donald J. Trump Do?

“There are three types of people in this world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened.”

― Mary Kay Ash

President Barrack Obama is scheduled to leave office on January 20, 2017, at which time President-elect Donald J. Trump will take over the mantle as the leader of a new administration in the U.S.

Now, numerous appeals have been made to President Obama and his administration to correct the injustice meted out to a man whose only guilt was putting his race first, yet, was falsely charged and indicted for mail fraud by the U.S. Justice Department in 1923.

The man — Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr. National Hero of Jamaica, political leader, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, orator and proponent of the Pan-Africanism movement.

Professor Rupert Lewis, a historian, and Garvey scholar argued in a piece in the Jamaica Gleaner that the case against Marcus Garvey was not worth the paper it was written on.

The allegation was that Garvey and members of his staff attempted to sell stock for a ship in the Black Star Line that had not yet been purchased.

Lewis cited American historian Adam Ewing’s book which provides background against the charge in part accordingly:

“Negotiations to purchase a transoceanic vessel from the US Shipping Board in order to carry passengers and supplies to West Africa were first drawn out, and ultimately undermined, by the [Federal] Bureau of Investigations. UNIA efforts to advertise passage on the ship, to be named the SS Phyllis Wheatley, and the subsequent failure of the Black Star Line to complete the sale, formed the core of the Department of Justice’s prosecution against Garvey.” ( Ewing, The Age of Garvey, p.115)

He noted further that this case was a culmination of a series of efforts to criminalize and deport Garvey and pointed to the fact that Theodore Kornweibel, another American historian, has shown “no black militant drew more investigation and surveillance by the Military Intelligence Division, State Department, and Bureau of Investigation … than Marcus Garvey”.

According to Ewing, stated Lewis, “J. Edgar Hoover, the new head of the Bureau’s anti-radical division, stated that ‘there might be some proceeding against him [ Garvey] for fraud in connection with his Black Star Line propaganda’ (p.114)

Lewis posited that there were many instances where the trial could be deemed not only unfair but also unjust; for example, the jury was all-white, the judge in the case had an affiliation with an organization that was anti- Garvey, and moreover, although four people were charged with using mail to defraud, Garvey was the only one sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, fined US$1,000, and was required to pay the costs.

In light of the fact that the prevailing and overwhelming evidence showed that the charges against Garvey were literally “trumped up” beginning in January 1922, until he was convicted of one count of mail fraud and conspiracy on June 18, 1923, many prominent leaders have called on the U.S. government time and again to exonerate Garvey.

One such request was that of a Florida-based Jamaican-born attorney Donovan Parker to the Obama administration for Garvey’s pardon.

However, this was met with a very cold, terse, and disdainful response from White House Pardon Attorney, Ronald Rodgers and reported in the press in part accordingly:

“It is the general policy of the Department of Justice that requests for posthumous pardons for federal offenses not be processed for adjudication. 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.”

It continued thus, “Many posthumous pardon requests would likely be based on a claim of manifest injustice, and given that decades have passed since the event and the historical record would have to be 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 truly benefit from a grant of the request.”

Now, that Donald J. Trump has managed to bulldoze his way over all and sundries into the office of President of the U.S., one wonders whether he may not be considered as the right person to correct the wrong done to an innocent black man.

There is no doubt that if Trump should yield to the call of a pardon to Marcus Garvey, there would be a changed perception of him by most well-thinking persons and more so black people in general.

After all, it was the Republican Party under the late Ronald Reagan, President of the U.S. in which the appeal was first set in motion upon the request of former Jamaica’s Prime Minister Edward Seaga.

Back then, a resolution was brought to the US House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, but unfortunately, there was no follow up and the issue got buried.

Now, the question is will the first black U.S. President ensure that justice is done, or should the public wait for another, or look to Trump for justice!

Yvad Billings, Readers Bureau, Fellow

Edited by Jesus Chan

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