Descendants of Marcus Garvey press Biden for posthumous pardon

The family of pan-Africanism leader Marcus Garvey seeks to overturn his 1923 conviction for mail fraud

Living descendants of Marcus Garvey, the civil rights activists who pioneered the pan-Africanism movement, are on a mission to exonerate the leader and bring justice to his name.

In a global effort with other community leaders, they are urging President Joe Biden to issue a posthumous pardon for Garvey’s 1923 mail fraud conviction, according to the Washington Post.

The activist received the federal charges after the Black Star Line, a shipping company he founded, promoted advertising for a ship that they were in the process of purchasing but did not own yet. The leader was hit with a five-year prison sentence and was deported upon release.

However, his family says Garvey was targeted by the U.S. government because of his racial justice work to liberate Black Americans.

“President Biden has made statements in his inaugural address about the dream for justice not to be delayed any longer,” said Julius Garvey, Garvey’s 88-year-old son. “We will take him at his word. Racial injustice was done to my father more than 100 years ago. He committed no crime. What he was trying to do was elevate the status of African Americans and Africans across the world.”

During the time of his conviction, Garvey was an outspoken proponent of self-determinism.

Marcus Garvey
Marcus Garvey

He argued that in order to be liberated, Black communities needed to secure their own financial freedoms that function outside of White-dominated society. 

This stance led him to found the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which was home to several businesses including the Negro World newspaper, the Negro Factory Corporation and the Black Star Line.

In efforts to stop the revolutionary pan-African movement led by Garvey, the Bureau of Investigation — the precursor to the FBI — led a full-fledged operation into Garvey, even hiring the first Black FBI agent to spy on him for the mail fraud charges.

Garvey was convicted, and after serving part of his sentencing, he was deported back to his home country of Jamaica in 1927. He never returned to the U.S. again.

The FBI later acknowledged that their probing of Garvey was to eventually “deport him as an undesirable alien.”

He died in London in 1940 after suffering two strokes.

Marcus Garvey,
Marcus Garvey, the revolutionary pioneer of the pan Africanism and Black nationalist movement in the early 20th century. (Photo: New York Public Library)

“I think the pardon and indeed complete exoneration of Marcus Garvey is warranted given the sham prosecution that resulted in his conviction,” said Anthony Pierce, one of the lawyers representing the descendants, to The Hill.

The request comes at a time where the White House has face increased pressures to right some of the historical racial injustices, following some of the former administration’s questionable insurances of pardons and sentence commutations.

The family is joined by scholars, community leaders, and other activist groups, including the Caribbean-American Political Action Committee (C-PAC), which has spearheaded a petition to elicit the response from Biden by March 2022.

“Our goal is to get at a minimum 20,000 signatures from each of the five continents,” said Dr. Goulda Downer, C-PAC chair. “We will ask President Biden to honor the voices of our global citizens and make amends for the 1923 unjust persecution and imprisonment of the Honorable Marcus Garvey.” 

The association’s goal is to collect 100,000 signatures from across the globe during Black history month in 2022.

The White House has not commented on the potential pardon of Garvey. 

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