Wednesday of this week marked the end of a very memorable August 2011.
August is usually a tall Southern drink of sultry chilled water, the natural bridge to fall and back to school. But this year, the month was far more than that.
There were record deaths of United States troops in Afghanistan, earthquakes in New York and Washington, D.C., as well as a hurricane turned tropical storm that flooded out some states and postponed the festivities to honor America’s newest redeemed peacemaker hero–Dr. Martin Luther King.
For another perspective on Black August and many of the other regular occurrences during the month, go back to the Our Weekly archives for this column at the beginning of the month.
As we watch August ooze into Labor Day, let us also remember that August 31, as proclaimed by Marcus Garvey and 20,000 other participants in 1920, is African (Negro) Peoples Independence Day.
At the best attended and longest International Convention of the UNIA-ACL (Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League) in 1920 in NYC, the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Negro (African) Peoples was approved. Among its 54 provisions–rights 53 and 54 were these: “We proclaim the 31st day of August of each year to be an international holiday to be observed by all Negroes (Africans); “We want all men/women to know we shall maintain and contend for the freedom and equality of every man, woman and child of our race, with our lives, our fortunes and sacred honor.”
In 2005, then-President General of the UNIA-ACL, Redman Battle, ordered the 91-year-old organization to renew observance of that holiday, and since then more cities with substantial Black American and Caribbean populations have remembered to do that, with parades, picnics, prayers, group meditations, speeches, etc. Included in this effort are Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York City, Detroit, Atlanta, and even Montreal, Canada. There are two functioning chapters of the UNIA-ACL in Los Angeles currently, but neither seems to have yet gotten into the swing of the revived holiday.
Black folk clearly need some more positive mojos working in their favor right now, so a word to the wise might spark more activity in Los Angeles, if not this year, then surely by 2012.
Speaking of the Honorable Mr. Garvey, whose name and legacy never seem to fade away, there has been a recent rumble over an attempt to get Mr. Garvey pardoned for his 1923 conviction and deportation for mail fraud. This was J. Edgar Hoover’s first major case as head of the F.B.I. dealing with a Black hero, and some of the same tactics experimented with then (constant harassment, infiltration, planting evidence, etc.) were seen later in dealing with the Black Panthers and other Black activist groups in the 1960s through 1980s.
Garvey was repeatedly arrested in 1920, 1921 and 1922, and eventually prosecuted, convicted of a single count of mail fraud by federal authorities in 1923 and sent to prison, after appeals failed, in 1925. In 1926, nine members of the jury that convicted Garvey signed an affidavit recommending the commutation of his sentence.
In 1927, President Calvin Coolidge did commute Garvey’s sentence, and after serving two years of a five-year sentence, he was deported and not allowed to return to the United States of America.
Actually, this recent iteration of activity to get Mr. Garvey pardoned involves several separate attempts. One is an on-going internet petition that is still making the rounds after more than three months of attention this year. The aim is to collect up to 10,000 signatures and send it to President Obama. The numbers goal hasn’t been reached, but the petition has been sent anyway.
Another attempt is by Jamaican-born attorney Donavan Parker, out of Washington, D.C. A third attempt is by a coalition of groups, led by another Jamaican–Geoffrey Philps. All aim at sending letters to President Obama. One of them last week trumpeted a response from the Obama administration which denied the request for a pardon.
Since then, the denial–supposedly written by a member of the current Justice Department–has gone viral as another failure on Mr. Obama’s part to support Black causes and issues.
For the record, the official position of the parent body of the UNIA-ACL, currently led by President General Senghor Baye, is that Mr. Garvey deserves complete exoneration, not a mere pardon. Requesting a pardon, the UNIA says, is tantamount to admitting that Mr. Garvey was guilty of a crime in the first place.
Starting in 1986, Congressman Charlie Rangel introduced several bills which first asked for a pardon, then, corrected, asked for complete exoneration for Marcus Garvey. There were several congressional hearings on the matter, with UCLA’s Robert Hill (editor of the massive Garvey Papers project), Marcus Garvey Jr., Dr. Julius Garvey, M.D. (the two surviving sons of Marcus Garvey), author Tony Martin, historian John Henrik Clarke, then-president general of the UNIA, Charles L. James, Queen Mother Moore, and other luminaries testifying in favor of passing the legislation. Even though eventually there were enough Democratic votes in the House to get the bill passed, it never happened.
These new attempts should be seen within that context. As in any protracted struggle for social-political justice, getting and maintaining clarity on the objectives of the engagement is crucial, if any winning is to be achieved. Hopefully, Mr. Garvey’s ‘One God, One Aim, One Destiny’ for African people will finally prevail (including his call for a United States of Africa), the August 31 holiday will again become a tradition, and his name will be cleared. That’s a lot of August hope for this day.
“Up You Mighty Race. We Can Accomplish What We Will!”
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). It is the step-parent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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