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Garth Rattray | Exonerate Marcus Garvey

Published:Monday | July 4, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Marcus Garvey, Jamaica's first designated national hero.

Dear President Obama,

Jamaica is a relatively young nation; we achieved independence from Great Britain in August 1962. In an effort to chart our own course socially and historically, we endowed the highest honour in our nation, the Order of National Hero, on seven outstanding Jamaicans whose unselfish and sacrificial lives altered or influenced the course of history in a positive way.

In 1969, Marcus Mosiah Garvey was named our first national hero. He was born in St Ann's Bay on August 17, 1887. He went to the capital city, Kingston, and worked at a small newspaper, The Watchman. He was well travelled, and this exposed him to international problems plaguing the poor and working class, who were usually of African ancestry. Consequently, in 1914, he formed the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) right here in Jamaica.

The UNIA was transnational and advocated mental liberation and self-government for people of African ancestry worldwide. It promulgated the need for self-help economic projects and eschewed racial discrimination. It was not revolutionary; it was transformational. It was not seditious; it sought to unshackle the oppressed people of African ancestry across the globe.

In 1916, Marcus Garvey travelled to the United States of America, where he continued spreading his belief that all people of African ancestry should be free from discrimination and oppression. He wanted to unify them. He wanted them to look to, and return to, Africa in order to realise the goal of freedom. He formed the Black Star Line to facilitate and provide transportation back to Africa.




His efforts earned him the distinction of becoming an inspirational international figure for racial pride, unity and self-government, but he attracted the attention of the government of the day. You can imagine what that meant. The Black Star Line failed and he was charged with mail fraud. Given the social background of the time, questions now arise as to his guilt or innocence.

He was imprisoned and deported to Jamaica and eventually moved to England, where he died in June 1940. His body lies among other national heroes at our National Heroes Park.

Garvey's relevance to black pride, self-reliance, industry, unity and racial equality has not waned in over a century. I've heard his name extolled as the inspiration for several current and revered American civil-rights leaders and activists. His philosophy and work were mentioned in tributes to the late great Muhammad Ali.

Certainly, Mr President, this speaks volumes about the man and his positive influence upon his race, the United States of America, other societies across the globe, and his home country of Jamaica. I dare say that he unlocked the door for others to open so wide that the world witnessed an African-American ascend to the presidency of the United States of America.

But sir, Jamaica's youth are losing their moorings. They are distracted by divisive politics, marginalisation, amoral socialisation, survivalist programming, and the denigration of our culture by the lure of alien lifestyles unfit for our little island. The future of our country diminishes daily. Our people need an infusion of pride in their race, their country and their culture.

Exonerating Marcus Garvey would ratify your commitment to a race that has been downtrodden for centuries. It would endear you to the Americans of African ancestry and to Jamaica, whose millions of migrants helped support you and lift you up to the entire world.

Over many years, all efforts to exonerate Garvey, from Jamaica to the halls of Congress in the USA, have failed, but I'm hoping that before you demit office, you will find it possible to either use your influence to get Garvey's record expunged or pardon him yourself. I've heard that to pardon a convicted felon, the person has to admit to the crime and seek the pardon, but I also see where President Bill Clinton pardoned Henry Flipper, the first 'Black' West Point cadet who was found guilty in 1882 of "conduct unbecoming an officer".

You have already pardoned dozens of individuals, Mr President; please add Marcus Mosiah Garvey to your list and help our people remember and refocus on who we really are.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.