Black History month is observed in the United States in order to give African American men, women, and children a more complete knowledge of their contributions to civilization. It is equally important for other races to make note of the accomplishments of our race as a means of reducing negative racial stereotypes.
In week 1, we will revisit the men and women who died unknown and alone while in service to our people. Their stories are rarely told, but their contributions have single-handedly changed the world and should be remembered.
Of all great figures in Black History, none are as important or as forgotten as Marcus Garvey, one of the founding fathers of Pan-Africanism and one of the first men to give us a universal vision that demanded a free and redeemed United States of Africa.
While we have written about the life and successes of Marcus Garvey here and here, his trials and tribulations are as much a part of his story as his victories. To learn more about his victories, read our article on Marcus Garvey here and here.
After less than a decade following Garvey’s creation of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.), membership had swelled to 6 million members worldwide. At the first International Convention of Negroes in August of 1920, 25,000 people packed Madison Square Garden to hear Marcus Garvey address them as the Provincial President of Africa. Three short years later, and Garvey was in shackles.
Garvey was charged with defrauding investors of the Black Star Line, a group of ships designed to move men and raw material between the African nations of the world. It was the first venture of its kind, and threatened to disrupt the balance of power in the white world.
The trial of Marcus Garvey was a farce:
- There was no evidence that the mailing of the letter for which Garvey was indicted was actually sent by Garvey or his organization. In fact, throughout the trial, the indicting letter was not even presented as evidence. Instead, prosecutors used an empty envelope with the Black Star Line seal on its outside.
- The conviction in the case was based not on facts in evidence, but upon assumptions, which had absolutely no support in the evidence (see Nosowitz v. United States, 282 Fed. at page 578, opinioned by Manton, J.:
- Unless there is substantial evidence of facts which exclude every other hypothesis but that of guilt, it is the duty of the trial judge to instruct the jury to return a verdict for the accused, and where all the substantial evidence is as consistent with innocence as with guilt, it is the duty of this court to reverse a judgement against the plaintiff’s in error.”
- The judgement of the jury was induced by prejudice, not by evidence against Mr. Marcus Garvey. During deliberations, the attorney begged the all-white jurors, “Gentlemen, are you going to let the tiger go?”
Despite the obvious farce, Marcus Garvey was convicted, and given the maximum punishment under the law: 5 years incarceration in the Atlanta Penitentiary.
Garvey’s sentence was eventually commuted by President Calvin Coolidge under the conditions that GARVEY IMMEDIATELY BE DEPORTED New Orleans to Jamaica, where a large crowd met him at Orrett’s Wharf in Kingston. Garvey went on the establish companies and political parties in Jamaica, while continuing to labor for the cause of Pan-Africanism.
On 10 June 1940, Garvey died in London after suffering two strokes. According to rumors, he died after reading a mistaken, and negative, obituary of himself in the Chicago Defender which stated, in part, that Garvey died “broke, alone and unpopular”. Other rumors have it that Garvey was poisoned on a boat on which he was travelling and that was where and how he actually died.
Ultimately, Marcus Garvey may have died alone and far from his beloved Amy and loyal members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, but he died in victory. On July 29, 1923, he wrote from jail “I fully calculated the cost of service to the race, and know that what is being done to me is only a part of the price I must pay for daring to arouse the consciousness of four hundred million Negroes to the hope of Empire.”
And in the following letter, written from deep inside the Atlanta Penitentiary, Marcus Garvey speaks to us from eternity;
Fellow Men of the Negro Race, Greeting:
I am delighted to inform you that your humble servant is as happy in suffering for you and our cause as is possible under the circumstances of being viciously outraged by a group of plotters who have connived to do their worst to humiliate you through me, in the fight for real emancipation and African Redemption.
I do not want at this time to write anything that would make it difficult for you to meet the opposition of the enemy without my assistance. Suffice it to say that the history of the outrage shall form a splendid chapter in the history of Africa redeemed, when black men will no longer be under the heels of others, but have a civilization and country of their own.
The whole affair is a disgrace, and the whole Black world knows it. We shall not forget. Our day may be fifty, a hundred, or two hundred years ahead, but let us watch, work, and pray, for the civilization of injustice is bound to crumble and bring destruction down upon the heads of the unjust.
I want you, the Black peoples of the world, to know that W.E.B. Dubois and that vicious Negro-hating organization known as the Association for the Advancement of “Colored” People are the greatest enemies the Black people have in the world. I have so much to do in the few minutes at my disposal that I cannot write exhaustively on the subject, but be warned against these two enemies. Don’t allow them to fool you with fine sounding press releases, speeches and books; they are the vipers who have planned with others the extinction of the Black race.
My work is just begun, and when the history of my suffering is complete, then future generations of Negroes will have in their hands the guide by which they shall know the sins of the twentieth century. I, and I know you too believe in time, and we shall wait patiently for two hundred years, if need be, to face our enemies through our posterity.
You will cheer me much if you will now do even more for the organization than when I was among you. Hold up the hands of those who are carrying on. Help them to make good, so that the work may continue to spread from pole to pole.
All I have I have given to you. I have sacrificed my home and my loving wife for you. She is the bravest little woman I know. She has suffered and sacrificed with me for you; therefore, please do not desert her at this dismal hour, when she stands alone. I have left her penniless and helpless to face the world, because I gave you all, but her courage is great, and I know she will hold up for you and me.
After my enemies are satisfied, in life or death I shall come back to serve you even as I have served before. In life I shall be the same; in death I shall be a terror to the foes of African liberty. If death has power, then count on me to be the real Marcus Garvey that I would like to be! If I may come in an earthquake or a plague or a pestilence, or as God would have me, then be assured that I will not desert you and make your enemies triumph over you. Would I not go to hell a million times for you? Would I not like Macbeth’s ghost, walk the earth forever for you? Would I not lose the whole world and eternity for you? Would I not cry forever before the footstool of the Lord Omnipotent for you? Would I not die a million deaths for you? Then, why be sad? Cheer up, and be assured that if it takes a million years, the sins of our enemies shall visit the millionth generation of those that hinder and oppress us.
Remember that I have sworn by you and my God to serve to the end of all time, until the wreck of matter and the crash of worlds. The enemies think I am defeated. Did the Germans defeat the French in 1870? Did Napoleon really conquer Europe? If so, then I am defeated, but I tell you the world shall hear from my principles even two thousand years hence. I am willing to wait on time for my satisfaction and the retribution of my enemies. Observe my enemies and their children and posterity, and one day you shall see retribution settling around them.
If I die in Atlanta, my work shall then only just begin, bit I shall live, in the physical or the spiritual to see the day of Africa’s glory. When I am dead, wrap the mantle of the Red, the Black and the Green around me for in a new life I shall rise up with God’s grace and blessing to lead the millions up to the heights of triumph that you well know. Look for me in the whirlwind or the storm, look for me all around you for with God’s grace, I shall come and bring with me countless millions of Black slaves who have died in America and the West Indies and the millions in Africa to aid you in the fight for liberty, freedom, and life.
The civilization of today is gone drunk and crazy with its power and by such it seeks through injustice, fraud, and lies to crush the unfortunate. But if I am apparently crushed by the system of influence and misdirected power, my cause shall rise again to plague the conscious of the corrupt. For this, I am glad to suffer and even die.
Again, I say cheer up, for better days are ahead. I shall write the history that will inspire the millions that are coming and leave the posterity of our enemies to reckon with the hosts for the deeds of their fathers.
With Gods dearest blessing, I leave you for a while.
On 15 November 1964, the government of Jamaica, having proclaimed him Jamaica’s first national hero, re-interred him at a shrine in National Heroes Park. Garvey’s name remains tarnished following his trial, as the Obama Administration declined to pardon Marcus Garvey in 2011, writing that its policy is not to consider requests for posthumous pardons. However, the petition to pardon Garvey and clear his name has been revived by the Coalition for the Exoneration of Marcus Garvey, led by Geoffrey Philp. To sign the petition, visit SignOn.org.