BY WALTER OPINDE
On this day, June 21, 1923, Marcus Garvey was sentenced to five years in prison after his conviction on the charges of using the mail to defraud.
Marcus Garvey was convicted on federal charges of mail fraud in connection with the sale of stock in the Universal Negro Improvement Association’s Black Star Line; however, he confirmed that those allegations were politically driven.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey was an advocate of Black Nationalism in Jamaica and the United States. He was a leader of a mass movement known as Pan-Africanism, and he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL). Garvey also founded the Black Star Line, a shipping and passenger line, which promoted the return of the African diaspora to their ancestral lands. Although many American black leaders condemned his methods and his support for racial segregation, Garvey still managed to attract a large following.
When the Black Star Line went bankrupt, Garvey was imprisoned for mail fraud in the selling of its stock. This is when his movement then rapidly collapsed. Prior to the 20th century, leaders such as Prince Hall, Martin Delany, Edward Wilmot Blyden, and Henry Highland Garnet advocated the involvement of the African diaspora in African affairs. Garvey was unique in advancing a Pan-African philosophy to inspire a global mass movement and economic empowerment focusing on Africa. His movement was known as Garveyism. Promoted by the UNIA as a movement of African Redemption, Garveyism would eventually inspire others, ranging from the Nation of Islam to the Rastafari Movement, which proclaimed Marcus Garvey as a prophet. The Garveyism focused on persons of African ancestry in the diaspora to redeem the nations of Africa, and for the European colonial powers to leave the continent. His essential ideas about Africa were stated in an editorial in Negro World entitled “African Fundamentalism“, where he wrote: “Our union must know no clime, boundary, or nationality… to let us hold together under all climes and in every country.”
Sometime around November 1919, the BOI began an investigation into the activities of Garvey and the UNIA. Toward the end, the BOI hired James Edward Amos, Arthur Lowell Brent, Thomas Leon Jefferson, James Wormley Jones, and Earl Titus as its first five African-American agents. Although initial efforts by the BOI were to find grounds upon which to deport Garvey as “an undesirable alien,” a charge of mail fraud was brought against him in connection with stock sales of the Black Star Line after the U.S. Post Office and the Attorney General joined the investigation.
By the time when the trial ended on June 23, 1923, Marcus Garvey had been sentenced to five years in prison. Garvey blamed Jewish jurors and a Jewish federal judge, Julian Mack, for his conviction. He felt that they had been biased because of their political objections to his meeting with the acting imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan the year before. In 1928, Garvey told a journalist: “When they wanted to get me they had a Jewish Judge try me, and a Jewish prosecutor. I would have been freed, but two Jews on the jury held out against me ten hours and succeeded in convicting me, whereupon the Jewish judge gave me the maximum penalty.”
Garvey later died in London on June 10, 1940, at the age of 52 years, having suffered from two instances of stroke.
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