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Garvey does not need a pardon from America

OPINION: Professor Gus John

IN THE past two months, I have received numerous requests to sign a petition calling on President Barack Obama to pardon Marcus Garvey before he leaves office and to encourage my networks to do likewise.

I see two problems with this initiative. The first is that I do not believe that Marcus Mosiah Garvey went to his grave conflicted by the belief that he had committed a crime and had to beg for anyone’s “pardon”. On the contrary, he was acutely aware that the US had committed a crime against him and had used and abused all its power to thwart his efforts and traduce his integrity and global ambitions, while having no right whatsoever to lay claim to the moral high ground, especially given the barbaric acts they were committing right there in America at the time (and continue to do to this day through their policing, judicial and prison systems).

If the call is for Garvey to be exonerated because he did not commit a crime, then demanding a
“pardon” simply does not make sense. The fact is that the charge and conviction were contrived and politically motivated in the first place and should be expunged and the whole truth be told about what the State Department thought of Garvey and how they set about to trap, malign and silence him. That, it seems to me, is a totally different political project than seeking to get Obama or anyone else to “pardon” Garvey.

The second problem I have is with the Jamaican state’s belated crowning of Garvey as a “National Hero” and their latter day support for this petition and campaign. Charity is more credible when it is seen to begin at home. If Jamaica wants Obama or his successor to pardon Garvey, it should have first quashed his conviction for sedition, a conviction secured by a colonial administration that in an earlier age executed Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle and hundreds more freedom fighters.

I fear that the unintended consequence of winning a ‘pardon’ for Garvey would be to sanitise him and his political activism and drag him screaming into collusion with a suspect consensus of what the state considered acceptable political activity, while it continued to heap oppression relentlessly upon the masses of African people. A pardon would simply give them a cause to celebrate how benign and big-hearted they are, while still perpetrating the worst inhumanities against people of African heritage. The establishment destroyed Marcus Mosiah Garvey, but it could not destroy his spirit and his soul.

That spirit lives on in the hearts, consciousness, political orientation and deeds of millions of people across the world. It behoves us, therefore, to keep his memory alive, through all the various art forms that define him, and especially through the work we do to connect new and emerging communities in the global African diaspora with his story and his vision, and the relevance of both to us today.

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