December 10, 2021
Marcus Garvey
It is Pardon Time 
Left: Marcus Garvey in a military uniform, undated
Right: A shareholder certificate from Black Star Line, Inc., undated
This week, preceded by a resolution introduced by Representative Yvette Clark (D-N.Y.) earlier this year, the living descendants of Marcus Garvey, including his youngest son and our HistoryMaker Dr. Julius Garvey, called on President Joe Biden to do the “right thing” by giving a posthumous presidential pardon to exonerate Garvey of the charges brought on by J. Edgar Hoover. Anthony Pierce, a lawyer representing the descendants, stated, “President Biden has an easy decision to make when it comes to this pardon.”[1]
Black Star Line advertisement for the SS Phyllis Wheatley, a central exhibit in the Mail Fraud case, 1921
Garvey's efforts on behalf of the black community were monumental, and he was wrongfully targeted. In January of 1922, Garvey found himself being arrested on charges of mail fraud for having advertised the sale of stocks in his historic steamship line which his company, the Black Star Line, did not yet own but was in the process of buying. Found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison and a $1,000 fine in 1923, Garvey’s sentence was later commuted by President Calvin Coolidge in 1927 after a petition for his release reached over 70,000 signatures. However, his record was not cleared, and he was immediately deported as an “undesirable alien.”[2] He, however, continued his international work until his death in 1940 at the age of fifty-two, leaving an amazing legacy that has not yet been fully recognized and acknowledged.
Marcus Garvey’s arrest for charges of mail fraud, 1922
Bishop Arthur Brazier (1921 - 2010), former pastor of the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago noted “the biggest agitation that I knew for social change back in those days was Marcus Garvey.”[3] As such, in 1919, twenty-four-year-old J. Edgar Hoover, recently appointed head of the Bureau of Investigation's new General Intelligence Division, also known as the Radical Division, was scheming on how he could bring down Garvey. He said in a letter that year: “Garvey… in addition to his activities in endeavoring to establish the Black Star Line Steamship Corporation… has also been particularly active among the radical elements in New York City in agitating the negro movement. Unfortunately, however, he has not as yet violated any federal law whereby he could be proceeded against on the grounds of being an undesirable alien, from the point of view of deportation. It occurs to me, however… there might be some proceeding against him for fraud in connection with his Black Star Line propaganda.”[4] Former Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert, whose senior thesis at Howard was on Garvey, emphasized: “The Black Star Line clearly was sabotaged… by agents of the United States government… Many of Marcus Garvey's closest associates were, in fact, paid government informers. That's now been documented. They were on the payroll… of what became the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] and the [U.S.] Department of Justice… when he became a national personality, and began to preach black self-empowerment, black self-help… he was considered a very, very dangerous personality.”[5]
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, 1932 (left), and 1963 (right)
Garvey would be among the first of Hoover’s many black targets during his fifty-five years with the FBI and its precursor. He would go onto monitor and act against numerous black groups and leaders, including the Nation of Islam, the Black Panther Party, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali. Educator and historian Al-Tony Gilmore added: “Good examples of the extent to which the system would go to sit a black down and put him in his place--Jack Johnson, Marcus Garvey, Paul Robeson, and there are a host of others.”[6]
Left: Marcus Garvey as a young man, undated
Right: W.E.B. Du Bois, 1918
Activist Junius "Red" Gaten (1900 - 2005) recalled: “They didn't know what Garvey was trying to do. They thought sure Garvey was trying to take them back to Africa. And that's all he's after. But Garvey wanted you to do something before you got to Africa because the people that told him, ‘don't send nobody over there unless you had a trade… we wanna see doctors... engineers, people who can help us to build… And this is what Garvey was after. Well, the other folks picked up what the white folks had already said… Everybody lied about Garvey.”[7] Media executive Paula Madison studied Garvey’s coverage in the media: “[When] W.E.B. Dubois declared himself to be communist, socialist he moved away from what a fair skinned, Harvard educated academician in the United States should have been and… Not until that happened did he start to be described in derogatory terms in the news media. Whereas, [they were derogatory] almost from the very beginning [with] Marcus Garvey… deep brown chocolate, hefty in girth, a big man.”[8]
UNIA parade, Harlem, New York, 1920. The sign in the car reads “The New Negro Has No Fear.”
But black people both in the U.S. and abroad were attracted to and supported Garvey‘s approach and philosophy of self-help which “went beyond mere civil-rights agitation and protest based itself upon a definitive, well-thought-out program that would lead to the total emancipation of the Black race from foreign dominion."[9] Chicago’s Phillip Jackson (1950 - 2018), founder of the Black Star Project, named his youth empowerment organization after Garvey’s Black Star Line, adding: “Marcus Garvey… tried to create a structure for black people… more than any movement that I've seen for black people in the world, they were for structure, for system, for organization.”[10] In fact, at its peak membership, the UNIA had membership in the millions between 1916 and 1927, making UNIA the largest Pan-African organization in history.[11] By comparison, the NAACP, founded in 1909, had only 90,000 members in 1920.
Left: Dorothy Height as a young woman, undated
Right: The Negro World, February 19, 1921
Dorothy Height (1912 - 2010), former president of National Council of Negro Women, spoke fondly of her days working for the UNIA’s publication, the Negro World newspaper. The paper was printed in three languages and had a circulation between 50,000 and 200,000 and was founded by Garvey and his first wife, Amy Ashwood: “It was one of the best things ever happened to me because I had the experience of seeing the Garvey principle that black has to be excellent… there was no way of just saying, ‘well, I've done the best I can.’ And that was not good enough. It had to be excellent… And many people felt that because he talked about ‘back to Africa,’ that there was something wrong with it. And I don't think that it was ever fully understood. But for me, it was a very rich experience, being able to fill the strength of blackness and how you could somehow enhance your own life as a person, being a black person, if you could take hold of it.”[12] Chaplain Reverend Harry Tartt (1908 - 2008) remembered growing up in Mississippi: “Marcus Garvey was getting his papers through at that time… 'Negro World' was coming through, but they had to be very secretive about that kind of thing, and the Chicago Defender was coming through, but the man who received it had to be very careful about handling and distributing.”[13]
Left: Marcus Garvey (standing) speaking at Liberty Hall, Harlem, New York, 1920
Right: A UNIA youth parade, Harlem, New York, undated
Elma Lewis (1921 - 2004) founder of the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts, told in her interview why her father became a Garveyite: “My father said as a child at home [in Barbados], he knew that the British were… abusive… and his ambition was to come here [to the U.S.] and join Booker Washington. When we got here, Booker Washington was not his cup of tea, and he heard of a young man from Jamaica whose name was Marcus Garvey. That appealed to him, and he and my mother were staunch Garveyites all their lives.[14] Civil rights activist and city government official John Garvey Bynoe (1926 - 2009), named for Marcus Garvey, similarly recalled: “My mother [Edna V. Bynoe] was a Garveyite… She… used to go to all the New York meetings… We used to meet at Louverture Hall… named after Toussaint Louverture, the Haitian leader… Every Sunday afternoon around four o'clock… we'd go, the kids in our little, like a boy scout uniform, and we'd march around the hall singing.”[15]
Left: Black Star Line shareholder certificate belonging to Louisa Parris Edwards, a former lieutenant in Marcus Garvey’s Army, 1929. From the Collection of Chirlane McCray.
Right: Members of a branch of UNIA with a photo of Marcus Garvey, undated
Sculptor and art professor Ausbra Ford (1935 - 2020) spoke of his father, Thomas Ford, Jr.: “He was very philosophical and he… always was for black business… he always had a hustle, and I've only known him to work for somebody else only one time… he always was self-employed… He'd talk about what Marcus Garvey was about.”[16] TV journalist Charles Thomas added: “My grandfather [Charles Thomas] … became an entrepreneur… in the '20s [1920s]. He was a disciple of… Marcus Garvey and a free enterpriser… And how he expressed that economically, professionally… he opened his own store… in the Webster Groves [Missouri] community, where you could buy… food items. He had a deli in there. He had a dry-cleaners in there… that's how… my grandfather raised his nine children.”[17]
Left: Malcolm X speaking before the Marcus Garvey Day celebration in Harlem, New York, August 1, 1958
Center: Elijah Muhammad speaking, c.1965
Right: Louis Farrakhan speaking, c.1950s
Garvey’s impact and influence would continue past his lifetime. As music composer and arranger John Andrew Ross (1940 - 2006) pointed out: “He [Marcus Garvey] was, of course, before his time… but his leadership did not fail… the germ of that idea continued to germinate and flourish and out of that came, among other things, the sense of black identity that was expressed through the Nation of Islam and coming down through Malcolm X and… Elijah Muhammad… and Louis Farrakhan.”[18] Author Ilyasah Shabazz, the third eldest daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, spoke of her paternal grandfather Earl Little: “He was an activist, very independent, very strong… he took up all of… Marcus Garvey's beliefs… [They met] In Canada… early 1900s… he and his wife [Louise Norton Little] eventually move to the States… preaching about self-reliance… To build this alliance first, to pull their money together, economic development… he was gaining signatures on a petition to take the League of Nations, which is the predecessor to the United Nations [UN]… to court, for violating the human rights of African people and, of course, this is what my father [Malcolm X] later did.”[19] Civil rights lawyer Standish E. Willis added: “He [Malcolm X] articulated for us probably the first clear nationalist ideas… which grew out of the Nation [of Islam]… And… out of the [Marcus] Garvey movement… the idea that black folks should be looking after black folks. We should be developing our communities; we should be electing black folks to represent us. We should be buying from black folks, so we can have the economy to employ our people.”[20]
Left: Marching Blacks (1947) by Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., which references Powell’s regard for Garvey
Right: Amy Jacque Garvey with a bust of her late husband, Marcus Garvey, undated
Reverend Al Sharpton was another who was captivated Garvey’s ideology even at a young age: “I read about Adam Clayton Powell [Jr.] … [And] in his book, his hero was Marcus Garvey, aside from his father. So I started reading about Marcus Garvey. When I was eleven [1965] … Bishop [F.D.] Washington did a Caribbean tour… And he took… me… And the first day [in Kingston, Jamaica] I ventured that I was gonna go find Marcus Garvey's family and talk to them about Marcus Garvey, the hero of my hero: Adam Clayton Powell [Jr.]. And I found out, I don't remember how… that Mrs. [Amy Jacques] Garvey lived at 12 Mona Road… She looks down and sees this kid… ‘Can I help you?’ I said, ‘Yes. I'm a young minister from the States. My name is Reverend Alfred Sharpton and I wanna meet Mrs. Garvey.’ And she… laughed and she invited me in for tea. And she sat there all afternoon telling me stories about her husband. She seemed to be flattered and happy to see a person so young, interested in Garvey. She had a bust of Garvey and different little memorabilia. And I remember one time she looked at me. She says, ‘Garvey had a big head. You have a big head. Maybe you'll be like Garvey.’[21]
Left: Marcus Garvey, 1924
Right: Abena Joan P. Brown, undated
Former head of Chicago’s DuSable Museum Carol L. Adams shared how Garvey and his philosophy impacted her work: “When Joan [HM Abena Joan P. Brown] … was teaching a course at Mundelein College [in Chicago, Illinois, now part of Loyola University Chicago] … the kids said they wanted to go Africa… And she said, ‘Let's go,’ and she started Africa Express… going to Africa every year… And some years later when I taught at Loyola, and we were talking about [Marcus] Garvey… my students said they wanted to go, I said, ‘Let's go.’ And it was really because I had seen what she did… The idea of doing what you want to do... being self-determined, raising your money, doing whatever it took, and going ahead to do your own thing.”[22]
Marcus Garvey (center) and his always well-dressed entourage, Harlem, New York, c.1920s
Reverend Eugene Rivers cited Garvey’s profound impact on the East Coast in particular: “If you go to the East Coast, you've got… a black middle class that's been educated for generations for sensibility, because this is the same city that gives you Marcus Garvey… you've got a pro-black ideology which has a certain level of refinement because Harlem [New York, New York] is the center of the black world… [They have a] Garvey-ish sensibility… You picked up the sensibility among your working-class black intellectuals, where the presumption of the self-sufficiency of black people was a foregone conclusion… You just understood that that's how things are supposed to go… so you see the Garvey. You see it in the intellectual life and the cultural life of the community… there was that understanding that we control this. This is ours.”[23]
Photo of Marcus Garvey bearing his signature, undated
If granted, President Biden’s pardon of Garvey eighty-one years after his death would rightfully acknowledge black self-empowerment and self-agency spurred on by Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League and his legions of followers.
[1] Caroline Vakil. “Marcus Garvey's descendants call for Biden to pardon civil rights leader posthumously,” The Hill, December 4, 2021, accessed December 7, 2021.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Bishop Arthur Brazier (The HistoryMakers A2005.003), interviewed by Larry Crowe, January 7, 2005, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 4, Bishop Arthur Brazier remembers social movements from his childhood.
[4] J. Edgar Hoover to Special Agent Ridgely, October 11, 1919.
[5] H. Patrick Swygert (The HistoryMakers A2003.115), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, June 2, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 3, H. Patrick Swygert talks about his research of Marcus Garvey.
[6] Al-Tony Gilmore (The HistoryMakers A2003.275), interviewed by Larry Crowe, November 21, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 5, story 3, Al-Tony Gilmore describes his experience with the Association of the Study of African American Life and History.
[7] Junius "Red" Gaten (The HistoryMakers A2003.037), interviewed by Larry Crowe, March 6, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 2, Junius "Red" Gaten describes meeting Marcus Garvey, the founder of UNIA, and church bombings.
[8] Paula Madison (The HistoryMakers A2013.327), interviewed by Larry Crowe, November 19, 2013, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 3, Paula Madison recalls challenging her father's colonialist mentality, pt. 1.
[9] “Membership,” UNIA, accessed December 7, 2021.
[10] Phillip Jackson (The HistoryMakers A2004.141), interviewed by Larry Crowe, August 24, 2004, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 6, story 6, Phillip Jackson explains how he patterns the Black Star Project after the teachings of Marcus Garvey, pt. 1.
[12] Dorothy Height (The HistoryMakers A2003.245), interviewed by Larry Crowe, September 13, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 5, Dorothy Height describes her affiliations while in Harlem, New York.
[13] Reverend Harry Tartt (The HistoryMakers A2002.200), interviewed by Larry Crowe, November 12, 2002, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 1, Reverend Harry Tartt describes his childhood experiences with racism, pt, 2.
[14] Elma Lewis (The HistoryMakers A2003.071), interviewed by Larry Crowe, April 10, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 6, Elma Lewis talks about how her parents met and their involvement in the Universal Negro Improvement Association.
[15] John Bynoe (The HistoryMakers A2004.209), interviewed by Robert Hayden, October 16, 2004, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 15, John Bynoe describes his family's association with Marcus Garvey.
[16] Ausbra Ford (The HistoryMakers A2002.078), interviewed by Larry Crowe, May 17, 2002, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 10, Ausbra Ford talks about his father's business philosophy.
[17] Charles Thomas (The HistoryMakers A2014.029), interviewed by Larry Crowe, January 24, 2014, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 8, Charles Thomas describes his paternal grandfather.
[18] John Andrew Ross (The HistoryMakers A2005.105), interviewed by Robert Hayden, April 21, 2005, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 7, John Ross recalls working for Elma Lewis.
[19] Ilyasah Shabazz (The HistoryMakers A2005.221), interviewed by Shawn Wilson, September 21, 2005, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 8, Ilyasah Shabazz details her grandfather's death.
[20] Standish E. Willis (The HistoryMakers A2003.247), interviewed by Larry Crowe, October 2, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 6, Standish E. Willis talks about Malcolm X's political philosophies.
[21] Reverend Al Sharpton (The HistoryMakers A2002.002), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, March 4, 2002, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 1, Al Sharpton remembers meeting Marcus Garvey's family.
[22] Carol L. Adams (The HistoryMakers A2003.066), interviewed by Larry Crowe, April 7, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 2, Carol L. Adams describes being inspired by HistoryMaker Abena Joan P. Brown.
[23] Reverend Eugene Rivers (The HistoryMakers A2007.063), interviewed by Larry Crowe, February 12, 2007, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 2, Reverend Eugene Rivers talks about regional differences in the black church.