Clean Slate: Marcus Garvey’s Criminal Record Being Expunged
Apetition calling on the US government to clear the name of Jamaican National Hero Marcus Garvey failed to get the required support, but the Jamaica government plans to clean up his criminal record at home, along with the records of two other heroes and a noted freedom fighter.
Garvey, along with fellow national heroes Samuel Sharpe and Paul Bogle and Maroon Chief, Tacky will have their records expunged.
Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange announced yesterday that Cabinet had approved drafting instructions for legislation to make that possible.
Garvey had been charged for contempt of court and convicted in 1929 for criticizing Jamaica’s legal system, which he reportedly described as “oppressive”, while calling for laws to “punish judges who acted unfairly”. He was fined £100 and sentenced to three months’ imprisonment.
Sharpe and Bogle were convicted and hanged for their roles in the 1831/32 Christmas and 1865 Morant Bay rebellions respectively, while Tacky was implicated in the 1760 St. Mary slave revolt.
Grange cited the “widely held” view that the events for which the four were implicated were not criminal acts of rebellion or treason, but rather “acts of liberation with abundant moral justification”.
“Consequently, our heroes ought not to have the stain of criminal conviction accompanying their role as national heroes. This Government is of the view… that our heroes should be pardoned by the State as a means of blunting the edge of the sword of injustice and as a symbolic recognition of their struggle,” she said.
Consequently, Grange said the administration acknowledged that a statutory pardon/expungement, which originates in Parliament’s “supreme” legislative power, is required to “totally absolve them of any criminal wrongdoing”, in keeping with Section 90 of the Constitution.
“A statutory pardon would have the effect of saying that our National Heroes did not commit any criminal offence, as the acts cannot be construed as criminal in the first place,” the Minister explained.
Grange argued that in light of global lobbies to expunge Garvey’s criminal record in the United States, in particular, Jamaica had an opportunity to make a “definitive statement” to the international community by passing the proposed Bill.
“When this legislation is tabled in Parliament, generations to come will look back on that act as a defining moment,” she said.
An online petition that opened on August 29 to get US President Barack Obama to pardon Garvey of his mail fraud conviction on the basis of wrongful conviction, failed late last month after it could not attract the required 100,000 signatures to get a response from the White House.
By the time it closed on September 28, it had only received 26,115 signatures.
Garvey, a proponent of the Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism movements, founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Jamaica in 1914 and then moved two years later to New York where the organization thrived. He spoke across the US and urged African-Americans to be proud of their race and return to Africa, their ancestral homeland.
To facilitate that return to Africa, Garvey founded the Black Star Line in 1919, to provide transportation to Africa, and the Negro Factories Corporation to encourage black economic independence. Three years later, he was arrested for mail fraud in connection with the sale of stock in the Black Star Line, which had by then failed.
Garvey’s remains were brought back to Jamaica and he was named Jamaica’s first national hero after being posthumously conferred with the Order of the National Hero in 1969 at the insistence of Edward Seaga, who was then minister of finance in Prime Minister Hugh Shearer’s Cabinet.