One of Donald Trump’s longest and closest associates has encouraged the president to grant a posthumous pardon to Marcus Garvey, the pan-African advocate and black nationalist who became a forebearer of the modern civil rights movement.
The associate, Roger Stone, told The Daily Beast earlier this week that he wrote Trump “a year ago” urging him to consider a Garvey pardon. Trump has not acted on the request and it’s unclear if he plans to. Stone did not return additional requests for comment, but in a Reddit forum in 2017 he explained that he had wanted the president to make the announcement during Black History Month, adding, “Yes I am serious.”
The president has recently discovered an appetite for issuing pardons of iconic figures, including those deceased, enhancing the prospect that a Garvey pardon may happen. That said, Trump does not appear to have ever mentioned the Garvey case. Nor is it clear if Stone has done any advocacy beyond the lone letter and the Reddit forum.
Reached by phone, Garvey’s son, Dr. Julius Garvey, said he was unaware of who Stone was, let alone the fact that the longtime Republican operative had been pushing for a posthumous pardon of his father. The younger Garvey had spearheaded the “Justice4Garvey” campaign during the Barack Obama presidency in hopes of securing an exoneration. But no pardon was granted and, Garvey said, he largely dropped his advocacy efforts since Obama left office.
“We have not pursued it with the current president or the Department of Justice,” Garvey told The Daily Beast. Asked why, he said: “I’m not sure of the direction [Trump] is going in with his pardons. It seems he is responding more to celebrities more than out of a reason of social justice. So I don’t know if my father fits in that context.”
The White House did not return a request for comment.
On its surface, Garvey would seem like an unlikely target for Trump’s pardon push. He was a vocal black nationalist, encouraging those in the diaspora to pursue self-reliance, economic liberation, and the revitalization of the African continent. In pursuit of these ends, he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association in 1914.
It was in his attempt to send cargo to Africa that Garvey was tripped up in legal troubles. Then FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had already been eying Garvey as “one of the most prominent negro agitators in New York.” And he used the sales of stock in Garvey’s Black Star Line steamships to go after him on charges of mail fraud—the argument being that the company had deceived stockholders into investing in a fleet that never actually existed.
“J. Edgar Hoover targeted him when he just came out of law school,” Julius Garvey recalled. “He was the new head of the FBI and he had the first black agent infiltrate his movement. There was no evidence against Garvey. The whole thing was travesty of justice.”
Garvey was convicted and sentenced to five years in jail. After three, his sentence was commuted by President Calvin Coolidge on condition that he be deported to Jamaica, where he became a hero to those on the Island and an inspiration to future civil rights leaders.
“He changed the whole dimension of politics,” said his son, a doctor in New York.
Numerous lawmakers have picked up the pardon-Garvey cause in recent years, including former congressman Charles B.Rangel (D-N.Y.), Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.); and current Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.), James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY), Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).
Despite that list of advocates, Obama never acted on a request to grant a pardon. Those who were familiar with the ex-president’s approach on the matter said that, in general, his team was opposed to granting posthumous exonerations, believing that resources and attention were best spent on those still living—for whom a pardon or commutation could prove transformative.
Trump has not shared that theory. Recently, he issued a posthumous pardon for the famed boxer Jack Johnson. And on Friday morning, he said he was considering one for another boxing great: Muhammad Ali.
Ron Tweel, Ali’s lawyer, noted that no pardon would be needed.
"We appreciate President Trump's sentiment, but a pardon is unnecessary. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Muhammad Ali in a unanimous decision in 1971," Ron Tweel, who has represented Ali and his family since 1986, told NBC News. "There is no conviction from which a pardon is needed."