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Remembering Marcus Garvey on his Birthday – Letter to President Biden

OTP joins the community in celebrating the birthday of Marcus Garvey and his spirit that moves through us all. 

by Julius W. Garvey, M.D., O.J.

Dear President Biden,
Just over 100 years ago Marcus Mosiah Garvey and the organization that he founded, the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, assembled 2,500 delegates from all over the world for the first-ever, International Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World. The opening ceremony packed Madison Square Garden to overflow capacity. They adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World. A veritable Magna Carta. At that time there were more the 1,000 branches of the Organization worldwide, 700 in the United States, with an estimated 6,000,000 members.

The organization had launched the Black Star Line Shipping Company, the Liberia Project, and the Negro Factories Corporation with a host of businesses from a publishing house, to laundromats, restaurants, a doll factory, clothing factories, and real estate development. The Organization employed more than 1000 people in Harlem alone.

This demonstration of economic strength and community power shook the foundation of British and French colonialism and the racist system of the United States of America.
Marcus Garvey immediately became a marked man and a target for J. Edgar Hoover and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Organization was spied on, disrupted, and sabotaged.
An attempt was made on Garvey’s life, he was wounded by 4 bullets, however, the assailant was captured in the Liberty Hall Headquarters in Harlem. Interestingly the perpetrator was said to have committed suicide 24 hours later while in police custody.

Marcus Garvey was brought up on charges in 1923, by the district attorney of New York for conspiracy to commit mail fraud. He was tried and convicted in 1925 with the only evidence being an empty envelope, presented by a perjured witness who couldn’t remember what was in the envelope. He served 2 years and 9 months in the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia before his sentence was commuted by President Calvin Coolidge and he was deported back to Jamaica in 1927. Millions of Africans worldwide have protested this grave injustice.


Myself and my brother, Marcus Jr., took up the task of clearing his name by appearing before the House Judiciary Committee chaired by John Conyers in 1987 and gave testimony along with several historians such as John Henrik Clarke, Tony Martin, Robert Hill, and Judith Stein, as well as the Jamaican Ambassador Keith Johnson, all declaring his innocence.

The Honorable Charles B. Rangel, as then Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has co-sponsored House Resolutions annually to the Congress to exonerate my father.
In 2016 we petitioned former President Obama to clear his name by issuing a posthumous pardon declaring his innocence. The analysis of the trial, its illegal and unjust proceedings was well documented by the Washington-based law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Haurer & Feld, LLP.

The Petition was supported by the Congressional Black Caucus, former Ambassador Andrew Young, Jr., Mr. Ndaba Mandela, the grandson of Nelson Mandela, Professor Charles Ogletree (former President Obama’s law professor at Harvard Law School) Prime Minister Andrew Holness of Jamaica, and a host or organizations such as the NAACP, the National Bar Association, the National Conference of Black Lawyers, the International Black Women’s Congress, The Society of American Law Teachers, Black Psychiatrists of America, Inc., Institute of the Black World, 21st Century and others.

The Petition was sent to Robert A. Zauzmer, Acting U.S. Pardon Attorney, United States Department of Justice, Office of the Pardon Attorney and addressed to the President himself by the recently deceased, Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., of Akin Grump.

The false conviction and imprisonment of Marcus Garvey was designed to destroy his reputation and the Organization that he had built as effective agents in African American economic empowerment. It followed on the heels of the systematic destruction of the town of Greenwood, North Tulsa, Oklahoma, ‘Black Wall Street’, in 1921, the most successful African American community, based on its own economic infrastructure. If these were emulated across America it would lead to independence rather than subservience within the body politic.
One can draw a straight line to Martin Luther King in 1968 and his organizing of the Poor People’s Campaign. He was challenging the unjust, unequal economic system and the waste of treasure and lives in Vietnam. He was shot and killed on April 4th, he was 39 years old. He died because he believed that economic justice could not be separated from civil rights.


In America we continue to agitate for our freedom, Black Lives do Matter, but as Martin Luther King said, “It is not the race per se that we fight but the policies and ideology that leaders of that race have formulated to perpetuate oppression”.
As you said relative to the George Floyd murder case, “This can be a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America”.
I urge you, Mr. President, that one of those next steps forward be the exoneration of my father, Marcus Mosiah Garvey.
As Martin Luther King said, “We must work unceasingly to lift this nation that we love to a higher destiny, to a new plateau of compassion, to a more noble expression of humanness”.
One God! One Aim! One Destiny!

Respectfully Yours, Julius W. Garvey, M.D., O.J. P.S.

MARCUS GARVEY (1887-1940)


Marcus Mosiah Garvey, one of the most influential 20th Century black nationalist and Pan-Africanist leaders, was born on August 17, 1887 in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica.  Greatly influenced by Booker T. Washington’s autobiography Up From Slavery, Garvey began to support industrial education, economic separatism, and social segregation as strategies that would enable the assent of the “black race.” In 1914, Garvey established the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Kingston, Jamaica, adopting Washington’s inspirational phrase “Up, you mighty race; you can conquer what you will.”  By May of 1917, Garvey relocated the UNIA in Harlem and began to use speeches and his newspaper, The Negro World, to spread his message across the United States to an increasingly receptive African American community.  His major audience included the thousands of Southern blacks who were then migrating from the “shadow of slavery and the plantation” to the urban North.  Black veterans of World War I were another Garvey audience.  Most of them had experienced both French equality and US military bigotry and returned home as militant “race men.”  They were attracted to Garvey’s calls.   The UNIA grew larger still following the race riots in the Red Summer of 1919.

Garveyism resonated with the rapidly urbanizing black community and spread beyond the United States to the Caribbean, Latin America and Africa.  Regardless of the locale, Garvey’s UNIA promised black economic uplift via self-reliance, political equality via self-determination, and the “liberation of Africa from European colonialism via a Black army marching under the Red, Black, and Green flag of Black manhood.”  Africa’s redemption, according to UNIA supporters was foretold in the messianic Biblical Psalms 68:31 “Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.”  However, it was Garvey’s ability to convey, in his vivid and powerful speeches, the distinct possibility of achieving these goals that led the UNIA to become an organization of millions.  When Garvey bellowed, “I am the equal of any white man [and] I want you to feel the same way,” he inspired the faithful and attracted the curious.  Addressing the gender question Garvey wrote, “Black queen of beauty, thou hast given color to the world…Black men worship at thy virginal shrine of purest love…!”  Garvey even created a new black faith by ordaining Reverend George Alexander McGuire as Chaplain General of the African Orthodox Church. McGuire’s sermons urged Garveyites to “Erase the white gods from your hearts.”


At the 1920 UNIA International Convention at Madison Square Garden, with twenty five thousand delegates and observers in attendance, Garvey issued the Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World.  The convention also produced the Universal Ethiopian Anthem.  The Negro World, the official newspaper of the UNIA, also spread the organization’s philosophy globally.  With a circulation of over 200,000 and published in three languages, Spanish and French as well as English, the Negro World was read on four continents.

Garvey’s most ambitious effort was the establishment of the Black Star Steamship Line. Garvey hoped that this joint stock corporation would develop lucrative commercial networks between the United States, the Caribbean, and the continent of Africa.  He also hoped that his three ships would help in the return of millions of blacks in the “Diaspora” to Mother Africa.  However, because of heavy debt and mismanagement, the steamship line went bankrupt and Garvey in January 1922 was arrested and charged with using the US Mail to defraud stock investors.

Ultimately, Garvey garnered the wrath of African American leaders when he met with the Ku Klux Klan leader, Edward Young Clark in Richmond, Virginia in June 1922.  Garvey naively believed the two organizations could work together since they both supported the goal of racial purity.  Clark in fact did promise some financial assistance for the UNIA.  After hearing of this meeting, however, the NAACP leader, W.E.B. DuBois, called Garvey the greatest enemy of the Negro race. The Urban League called Garvey a “swindler” and black union leader A. Philip Randolph said that Garvey and Garveyism should be purged from American soil.

Various civil rights organizations now mounted a coordinated “Garvey Must Go” campaign.  The Justice Department, seeking to discredit Garvey because it felt he represented a threat to colonial interest and menaced racial peace in the US, hired its first black agent, James Wormley Jones, to infiltrate the UNIA. Garvey was convicted of mail fraud in 1923 and sentenced to five years in federal prison.  In part, because of a letter writing campaign orchestrated by Garvey’s second wife, Amy Jacques Garvey, President Calvin Coolidge commuted his sentence in 1927 in exchange for the UNIA President accepting deportation.  Garvey spent his last years in Jamaica trying to revive his political fortunes and eventually died in London, England in 1940, never having set foot on African soil.

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