Dr. Julius Garvey has a lot to celebrate.
His father’s life and legacy is part of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture, the first national museum fully dedicated to the Black American experience. He is also a well-known, successful vascular surgeon.
But there’s one thing Garvey cannot shake. And that’s clearing his father’s name.
His father, Marcus Garvey, was arguably one of the most prolific leaders of the early twentieth century. The Jamaican-born political trailblazer is famously known for his “Back to Africa” movement, and for founding the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).
Garvey’s legacy is hailed by many, but his civil rights efforts were cut short to what his son says are bogus charges that still stick today. He was targeted by a young Justice Department official named J. Edgar Hoover, and prosecuted for leading the largest civil rights organization of the era.
And almost 100 years later, the fight to clear his name is still on.
“Part of the suppression of the freedom movement of Africans in America was J. Edgar Hoover,” the younger Garvey, 83, said. “[He targeted] my father because he led the largest civil rights organization of the period.”
In 1919, Hoover and the Bureau of Investigations—now known as the FBI—began a probe into Garvey and the UNIA’s activities. The bureau’s initial efforts were to find reason to deport Garvey from the U.S., but the organization proved unsuccessful.
In 1923, they eventually charged him with mail fraud in connection with stock sales of the Black Star Line—a shipping line incorporated by Garvey—after the U.S. Post Office and the Attorney General joined the investigation.
As a result, Garvey was convicted on trumped up charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
“In a trial replete with judicial misconduct, perjury, incorrect charges and an empty envelope, Marcus Garvey was convicted and imprisoned for 2 1/2 years in Atlanta,” Garvey said. “His 5-year sentence was commuted by President Coolidge under advice of the Attorney General and unrelenting public pressure. He was immediately deported to Jamaica.”
The move did exactly what Hoover wanted to do. It slowed down what was quickly becoming a growing civil rights movement in America—and beyond.
“The Civil Rights Movement did not regain strength until the ’60s with others, like Malcolm X Shabazz and Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Garvey said.
For almost three decades, Garvey has called for the exoneration of his father.
“In 1987, we worked with Congressman John Conyers on this effort, and again in 2004, with Congressman Charles Rangel in hopes that Congress would pass Congressional Resolutions to exonerate my father,” Garvey said. “We were unsuccessful back then, so now we have placed a petition on President Obama’s desk requesting a Posthumous Presidential Pardon.”
And as President Obama’s term comes to a close, time is of the essence.
“We are hopeful that the President will respond affirmatively,” Garvey said.
For more information on the “Justice 4 Garvey” campaign and to keep up with its progression, visit www.justice4garvey.org.
Photo: Dr. Julius Garvey, standing at the exhibit of his father, Marcus Garvey, at the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture.