Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Editorial | Gov’t should promote Garvey petition

Published:Friday | September 16, 2016 | 9:00 AM

During Barack Obama's visit to Jamaica 17 months ago, then prime minister Portia Simpson Miller raised with him the matter of exonerating Marcus Garvey for his 1923 conviction of mail fraud in America. The US president was either not impressed by her arguments, or did not, at that point, feel it politically expedient to accede to her request. He did nothing, as was his stance four years earlier when people in America petitioned him to pardon Garvey.

Mrs Simpson Miller was not the first Jamaican PM who failed to convince an American president on this matter. Thirty-five years earlier, Edward Seaga, when he became the first foreign leader to visit with Ronald Reagan, unsuccessfully pursued the case. Clearly, though, exonerating Garvey is an issue on which there is wide agreement in Jamaica. As it should be.

After all, Marcus Garvey was Jamaica's first National Hero - the first so designated. Born within a half-century of the abolition of slavery in Jamaica, he was an inspirational leader whose message of black consciousness resonated not only in the United States, where he was based, but was able to accomplish what, for the early 1920s, was the phenomenal feat of building a global movement of more than six million members in 40 countries.

However, in 1923, Marcus Garvey was convicted of mail fraud, linked to the launch by his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) of the Black Star Line shipping company. Academics largely agree that Marcus Garvey's was a trumped-up, political prosecution of a worrisome black leader by J. Edgar Hoover and his Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), with the support of some of Garvey's rivals and enemies.

There have been many efforts, over the years, including unsuccessful initiatives by black members of Congress, to clear Garvey's name. His descendants, with the backing of many of American black leaders and liberal thinkers, are having another go. A petition has been lodged with the White House asking for a presidential pardon.

 

RIGHT A HISTORICAL WRONG

 

There are some who don't agree with this strategy. They argue that this is tantamount to accepting that Garvey was guilty of something for which he has to be forgiven. In this context, and on the basis of the legal brief that has been lodged in support of it, we see a presidential pardon as America's acceptance of a need to right a historical wrong, made more profound by President Obama's reluctance to grant posthumous pardons. As the United States' first African-American president, Garvey's case should resonate with Mr Obama. A pardon, in the circumstance, is the most opportune for its resolution.

But to ensure that this petition moves from first base at the White House to serious technical review, it needs 100,000 signatures by September 30 - the end of the 30 days allowed for their gathering. Surprisingly, up to 2:30 p.m. Jamaica time yesterday, fewer than 2,050 people had electronically supported the petition at the We the People portal on the White House's website.

Given Jamaica's stake in this matter, the Holness Government, in the remaining time left, should pursue an aggressive initiative, via its agencies at home and missions abroad, using all modes of communication, to have Jamaicans everywhere sign the petition. Political parties and civil-society groups should do likewise. That petition deserves far more than 100,000 signatures.