29 September 2011

Will Obama review denial of Marcus Garvey pardon?

by Calvin G. Brown
CARICOM News Network

 That Marcus Garvey pardon fiasco could cost Obama dearly

As US President Barak Obama contemplates a possible review of his ill fated decision not to posthumously grant a pardon to Jamaica's National Hero Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the following Jamaican proverb comes to mind: "“the same knife dat stick sheep will also stick goat.

Indeed, if the jihadist Tea Party faction of the Republican Party is allowed to have its way, President Obama will not have as much as a snowball’s chance in hell to be re-elected. According to Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, his primary goal is to make Obama a one term President. Clearly, the power structure is afraid that given a level playing field, Obama will succeed.

Hence in order to stop him, it is necessary to starve him of additional stimulus money to create jobs; encourage big business like Kotch Industries to withhold spending that would create well needed jobs; give Obama ownership of all that is wrong in the United States including a fragile economy fuelled by billions wasted on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; give him ownership of the Wall Street melt down; give him ownership of the Bush tax cuts for the rich that were never funded and represents one of the biggest addition to the national debt; and finally, to block any meaningful legislation that would assist Obama in helping the poor and downtrodden in the United States.

Like Marcus Garvey, Obama has tremendous capacity to mobilize people by way of his oratorical and organizational skills, and the only way to defeat him is to fraudulently give him ownership of an economy destroyed by Republicans. There is no doubt that racism is alive and well in the hallowed halls of the United States Congress and Senate.

On Monday the 28th of August, Barak Obama, the first Black president of the United States, will deliver the dedication speech celebrating the unveiling of a national memorial in honour of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. near the place on the National Mall in Washington DC where he made his famous "I have a dream" speech on 28 Aug 1963 which drew some 200,000 civil rights activists to the Mall.

The Dedication and the events surrounding this historic weekend promise to honor one of mankind’s most inspirational leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The memorial will honour Dr. King for his contribution to the breakdown of American racism. He led marches and protests throughout the segregated south, preached non-violence in the face of violence and went to jail several times for his actions. He is credited with helping to change the course of US history. The 17-minute speech by King, in which he called for racial equality and an end to discrimination, is regarded as a defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement.

King, however, stood on the shoulders of those who came before him, and fought the injustices of a racist American socio-economic system where people of colour were considered less than human.

One of the giants on whose shoulders he stood, was that of a Jamaican journalist and publisher, Marcus Mosiah Garvey who arrived in the US on March 23, 1916. While there he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association, and the Communities League (UNIA-ACL), a black nationalist fraternal organization and the Black Star Steamship Line, which promoted the return of the African diaspora to their ancestral lands, the Black Cross Trading and Navigation Company, as well as the Negro Factories Corporation among other organizations.

In the nine short years he spent in the United States, Garvey built the largest mass movement of Black people in United States history. In a society riddled with racial discrimination, lynching and poor housing and unemployment, the masses of Black people were ready for a leader who was aggressive and had a plan to "uplift the race".

It however began to fail after he was convicted of mail fraud and was deported from the U.S. The Black Star Line failed because of purported mismanagement and lack of sufficient funds.

Many believe that fearful of his widening popularity among downtrodden US blacks, Garvey was set up by the J Edgar Hoover-led Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), and imprisoned for mail fraud totalling US$25 in June 1923. After spending two years and nine months in an Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, Garvey was deported from New Orleans, Louisiana to Jamaica on a ship.

Today, from the Halls of Montezuma, across the Isthmus of Panama, through the isles of the Caribbean and the lands of continental Africa to the shores of Tripoli, Marcus Mosiah Garvey remains the most revered Black historical figure to have emanated from the new world.

The news that the Obama Administration has rejected overtures from Jamaicans to officially pardon Garvey posthumously, is disappointing, to say the least. Numerous efforts have been made over the years to have the matter rectified, but to no avail.

As a matter of fact, Former Prime Minister Edward Seaga had asked the late US President, Ronald Reagan to grant a full pardon to Marcus Garvey on the 1923 charge of mail fraud. In addition, from as far back as 1987, a resolution was brought to the US House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice to have Garvey’s name cleared, but the issue seemed to have fallen off the agenda and was never pursued.

Every student of the civil rights movement is acutely aware of the injustice meted out to Garvey as well as the conventional wisdom that he was “railroaded” by J Edgar Hoover because he was getting too powerful as a black leader, but that the only charge that could be trumped up against him was “mail fraud”.

Jamaican born attorney Donavon Parker, whose weekly mails to the White House demanding a pardon for Garvey goaded the Barak Obama administration into making this unfortunate reply, also pointed out that the original transcripts of Garvey's trial cannot be found. "They don't have it. Somebody took it. I was told this by the Jamaican Consul General in Miami, Sandra Grant-Griffiths, who informed me via a letter," Parker said.

It is difficult to believe that Obama had a hand in this patently anal response from The White House Pardon Attorney, Ronald Rodgers who indicated that ‘pardoning Garvey would be a waste of time and resources since Garvey had been dead for ages.’ According to Rodgers, "It is the general policy of the Department of Justice that requests for posthumous pardons for federal offences not be processed for adjudication. The policy is grounded in the belief that the time of the officials involved in the clemency process is better spent on pardon and commutation requests of living persons.”

He said "Many posthumous pardon requests would likely be based on a claim of manifest injustice, and given that decades have passed since the event and the historical record would have to be scoured to objectively and comprehensively investigate such applications, it is the Department's position that the limited resources which are available to process requests for Presidential clemency -- now being submitted in record numbers -- are best dedicated to requests submitted by persons who can truly benefit from a grant of the request," said Rodgers who replied on behalf of Obama who is seeking re-election in 2012.

Garvey has influenced Black leaders from Malcolm X to and Muhamad Ali to Mandela Martin Luther King, and undoubtedly must be considered as a supremely important historical figure not only in US history, but that of Africa and the Caribbean as well. In fact, Young Malcolm used to accompany his father to Garvey's meetings. His father's involvement later cost him his life. Interestingly enough, former New York State Governor David Paterson was also indirectly influenced by the Garvey Movement as his paternal grandmother, Evangeline Rondon Paterson was no less than secretary to Marcus Garvey.

During a trip to Jamaica, Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta Scott King visited the shrine of Marcus Garvey on 20 June 1965 and laid a wreath, “out of respect for a man he said, gave Negroes in the US a sense of dignity, a "sense of personhood, a sense of manhood, a sense of somebodiness".

If Martin Luther King whose monument Obama will dedicate on the 28th of August can realise the importance of Garvey, what is so difficult about him recognizing the fact of the fundamental importance to Jamaicans and people of colour, of posthumously clearing the name of Garvey.

Marcus Mosiah Garvey is not only a National Hero of Jamaica and a folk Hero in many Caribbean and Central American countries, but also a most important forebear of the American civil rights experience. Hence this rejection of an official pardon from quarters out of which one would expect a more reasoned response, represents a supreme blow to the ethos of the continuing movement for equality in the US.

When on the 28th day of August, President Barak Obama rises to dedicate the official monument to the memory of Martin Luther King, the ghost of forebears such as Marcus Garvey will not allow him to forget that he too stands on the shoulders of those who have gone before and have paid the price to enable him, a Black man, to attain the high office of President of the United States of America.

An Executive Pardon is usually reserved to be addressed at the end of a President’s term in office because of the obvious sensitivities involved and the decision is usually final. It cannot be reversed.

Therefore, what’s the rationale in this functionary, Rodgers apparently taking it upon himself to make such an insensitive pronouncement in an election year? Is he secretly working against Obama? In fact, this is a matter that is usually addressed on the recommendation the Attorney General, who, in this case, happens to be Eric Holder who is of Barbadian descent and well versed in the achievements of Marcus Garvey.

What may at first glance seem to be an insignificant and innocuous occurrence, could very well, in the long run, cost candidate Obama very dearly by underestimating the historical value and importance of Marcus Garvey to the black and afro-centric immigrant community in the United States . In an election year, Obama can ill afford any resistance from a traditionally safe, black, Caribbean, African immigrant constituency, which would possibly otherwise unreservedly support his policies.

Let me take this opportunity to congratulate Mr. Donavon Parker for his tremendous efforts and urge every Jamaican, Caribbean, and Black American to write to the White House in continuation of the effort to have The Rt. Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey posthumously pardoned by the United States Government.