Jamaica’s leader asked President Barack Obama on Thursday to exonerate black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey, who was convicted in the U.S. of mail fraud in the 1920s and remains a prominent historic figure on the island.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller said she told Obama it is the “deep desire of the government and people of Jamaica” to have Garvey exonerated of the conviction that got him deported back to his Jamaican homeland in 1927.
“I asked the president to consider the matter and to offer any support within his authority during his tenure in the White House, and beyond,” Simpson Miller said after Obama departed the island to attend the Summit of the Americas in Panama.
Garvey was the first person named a Jamaican national hero following the island’s independence in 1962, and the government put his likeness on coins. He died in 1940.
U.S. officials did not immediately provide comment about Simpson Miller’s request regarding Garvey, who once inspired millions of followers with messages of black pride and self-reliance. Obama made no mention of Garvey during his public comments in Jamaica, which focused on a wide range of regional issues including energy security, trade and climate change.
Born nearly 50 years after the abolition of slavery in Jamaica, Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association in Jamaica in 1914 and then built it into a mass movement in New York from 1919 to 1927. From his Harlem base, Garvey urged blacks to be proud of their African ancestry at a time segregation was deeply implanted in the U.S. and European colonialism still stretched around the world.
Garvey’s Pan-African philosophy urged blacks to return to the continent of their ancestors.
His supporters in Jamaica and abroad contend the U.S. charges were trumped up to silence Garvey.