By Jared D. Childress | OBSERVER Staff Writer
Former Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson made a commitment to Dr. Julius Garvey at the Oak Park Black Film Festival in September: he would help clear the name of his father, political activist Marcus Garvey.
“We’re going to do our part to get to President Biden and others to see if we can get his name exonerated,” Johnson told The OBSERVER. “It would be pretty amazing if we can play a role as a community to do that.”
Dr. Garvey recently returned to Sacramento. This time, the 89-year-old headlined the Oak Park Speaker Series at the Guild Theater on Nov. 12. At the event, presented by Underground Books, Dr. Garvey discussed his book, “The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey,” his continued efforts to exonerate his father, and commented on a number of other current events.
Nearly 140 people sat on the edge of their seats as Johnson asked Dr. Garvey what he thought of the recent election.
Dr. Garvey said: “We’re in the belly of the beast.”
“What it means to us is irrelevant [because] nothing has changed systemically,” Dr. Garvey said. “We’re still being killed in the street, and scapegoated and brutalized if we show any strength or any independence as individuals or as a group.”
Dr. Garvey, like his father, isn’t shy about sharing his opinion.
Marcus Garvey is arguably most famous for the “Back to Africa” movement of the 1920s. But a seven-minute documentary that led off the event revealed a more lasting legacy.
“It wasn’t just about moving back to Africa, it was about embracing Africa wherever you are,” said Shaka Satori, who directed “Whirlwind: The Marcus Garvey Story.” He explained that Marcus Garvey wanted to “create the kind of commerce where we could support each other’s business endeavors and build our community — no matter where you are on the planet.”
Marcus Garvey founded the Pan-African movement of the 1920s, the largest Black movement in history. He predates celebrated Black leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. As founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, Marcus Garvey created Black-owned businesses including a newspaper, a shipping company, farms and a paramilitary. He also established the red, black and green flag that remains the global symbol of Pan-Africanism.
Marcus Garvey was wrongfully imprisoned in 1925 for mail fraud and deported back to Jamaica in 1927. He died from a stroke in 1940 while in London at 52.
Dr. Garvey was just 7 when his father died. His mother, Amy Jacques-Garvey, raised him and his older brother, Marcus Garvey Jr., as a single parent.
“The thing that was most noteworthy is the way my mother carried on the mantle of my father,” Dr. Garvey said. “She always painted a picture of my dad as a wonderful person to look up to.”
Attendee Christine Fitzpatrick-Sullivan, an activist who helped popularize Kwanzaa in San Joaquin County, was surprised that Dr. Garvey was “on par” with his father.
“He’s got the fight,” Fitzpatrick-Sullivan, 80, said. “Even though his father passed, he got the teachings from his mother who was right on track.”
Dr. Garvey recently revised the book, “The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey,” which his mother originally compiled. He added a new introduction and postscript to its 163 pages. Following the event, Dr. Garvey signed copies at Underground Books.
“Certain things were added to make it more relevant to the contemporary time,” Dr. Garvey told The OBSERVER. “I want the message to be for young people, as opposed to historians. Young people don’t like books that are 400 pages.”
Marcus Garvey has regained popularity in recent years. The revolutionary’s name is routinely alliterated next to Martin and Malcolm and his face screen printed on T-shirts.
But Dr. Garvey feels many people don’t truly understand his father’s impact.
“My father’s work has been suppressed and not taught in schools; our culture itself is not taught in schools,” he said. “The mainstream information is still very much negative.”
Dr. Garvey is working to exonerate his father through the international “Justice4Garvey” campaign.
In February 2021, House Resolution 148 was put before Congress; it calls for the president to take measures to exonerate Marcus Garvey.
Dr. Garvey criticized the Democratic and Republican parties for allowing the resolution to sit idle. The audience erupted in laughter when he called the dueling parties “Tweedledum and Tweedledee.”
Attendee Dale McKinney said the community must support exoneration efforts. McKinney could personally relate; the Sacramento native said he was wrongfully convicted of a police murder in the 1970s after associating himself with the Nation of Islam.
“We have to circle the wagons around each other and protect each other,” McKinney, 72, said. He added that after serving 15 years in prison he became an attorney “I wanted to put some protection on myself because the legal system failed.”
In February 2022, Dr. Garvey accumulated 100,000 signatures within a month, an effort said to require the president to respond.
“You had to get the signatures within 30 days — that’s the stipulation … but there’s been no response,” Dr. Garvey said. “My law firm wrote the president in June — as well as the vice president. There’s been no response.”
Johnson once again vowed to help in the quest for exoneration.
“We’re working on a game plan,” Johnson said. He added that the community can help correct history, telling Dr. Garvey, “That’s our commitment to you.”