One More Reason to Exonerate Marcus Garvey: Gratitude

What goes around…comes around. Both good and bad. In this case, it is my gratitude to Marcus Garvey, who has inspired my writing and the creation of this blog, which has fueled my desire for his exoneration.

I taught Marcus Garvey for many years and the typical response of my students, if they had heard the name Marcus Garvey, was similar to the scene Justin Hansford describes in "Jailing a Rainbow":

Garvey? Oh yeah, that Back to Africa guy, right? Didn’t he have some crazy scheme to put Black people on a ship and send them to Africa to create some empire in the jungle or something? Well, that’s pretty crazy! That’s why it never worked anyway.

The first time, I heard those words or similar sentiments, my blood boiled. But I learned "to keep cool." Marcus would have liked that. They were students--young, inexperienced, innocent. And I was their teacher, so I would have to teach them.

I'd have to teach them that Marcus Garvey's mission was more than the Black Star Line. That the Black Star Line was one of the expressions of Garvey's mission: the upliftment of Africans. I'd have to teach them that Garvey's quest began from an epiphany after he had witnessed the many injustices against New World Africans:

I was determined that the black man would not continue to be kicked about, as I had seen in Central America, and as I read of it in America. Where is the black man's government? Where is his King and his kingdom? Where is his President, his country, his men of big affairs? I could not find them, and then I declared, 'I will help to make them.' My brain was afire.

Garvey recognized the systemic nature of the oppression, which Rastafari would later name as Babylon. It was a s[h]ystem, as Peter Tosh would say that was founded on injustice because it excluded New World Africans from competing for the good and services in the national and world economy. This system was enforced economically and militarily to enslave the bodies of New World Africans. But the most effective method was the insidious propaganda: Africans were inferior to Europeans. In other words, White privilege  was the norm and anything else was, well...not proper.

Not only did Europeans and their descendants promote this propaganda (and why shouldn't they? They were rational agents acting out of self-interest), but Africans and their descendants also believed this and sometimes acted against their own self-interests. Hence, Malcolm X's observation about field slaves and house slaves.

Marcus Garvey sought to establish a counterculture of resistance of European values while at the same time building a solid economic base for New World Africans,which he hoped would increase their self-reliance, self-esteem, and sense of identity. Garvey rightly diagnosed the central challenge within the Black community, which is revealed in how we think about each other and ourselves: As Man Thinks So Is He.

Marcus Garvey's cause was justice, plain and simple. And it is ironic that unjust methods were used to malign his good name and to bring about his eventual imprisonment on fraudulent charges.

Yet, despite the calumnies brought against him, Marcus Garvey continued to work for justice and freedom of Africans. I imagine him every day putting on his suit and his hat and working for the liberation of his people. Some days it was glitzy and glamorous, like speaking to thousands of supporters in Madison Square Garden and on other days, it was dodging stones from misguided children.

But this is the nature of the struggle…a luta continua…. day-by-day, brick by brick…one mind at a time.

Marcus was fighting for something larger than himself and as a teacher who encounters on a daily basis the effects of this lack of identity, lack of self-esteem and self-reliance, the exoneration of Marcus Garvey's name, it is hoped, will  clear the name of a Black man who was unjustly convicted; honor the legacy of  a hero in the struggle for Black identity, and draw attention to the work of Marcus Garvey, especially his ideas about personal responsibility and success, which are sorely needed in our community.

Therefore, we are petitioning President Barack Obama to exonerate Marcus Mosiah Garvey and to clear his good name.

Here is the link to sign the petition:



Anyone who has ever heard Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" has been singing Marcus Garvey's praises. In that song Marley paraphrases a quote from Garvey. Every time someone sings along and utters "emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind" is actually speaking the words of Garvey. Does not such an eloquent presenter of the human condition deserve 5000 signatures on a petition to Barack Obama in exoneration of his words, works and deeds?

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