As the annual observance of Black Press Week continues in the District, one of the always-anticipated events, the Black Press Archives and Gallery of Distinguished Black Publishers Enshrinement Ceremony, will honor two individuals whose forefathers played critical roles in the advancement of the Black Press and the crusade for racial equality and economic advancement for African Americans: the Rev. Frances Murphy Draper, the great-granddaughter of John Henry Murphy, Sr., a former slave and the founder of The Afro-American (1892); and Dr. Julius W. Garvey, the second-born son of Marcus Garvey who founded the Negro World in New York City in 1918.
Dr. Garvey, a surgeon and medical professor, born Sept. 17, 1933 in Kingston, Jamaica (to Garvey and activist Amy Jacques Garvey), spoke to The Washington Informer in an exclusive interview about his life, both before and since his retirement, and the continued relevance of the teachings of his father who, among his many noted accomplishments, founded the United Negro Improvement Association and has long been heralded as the father of the Pan-African Movement.
Dr. Garvey graduated from Wolmer’s Trust High School for Boys in Kingston in 1950; earned his B.S. degree from McGill University in Montréal, Canada in 1957; and his M.D., C.M. degree from McGill University Faculty of Medicine in 1961. He then embarked on a long, successful medical career in cities that include Montréal, New York City and Baltimore, serving both as an instructor in surgery and an attending-in-charge of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery.
And while he and his wife, Constance Lynch Garvey, now enjoy and celebrate their senior years, as well as their children, Nzinga, Makeda and Paul and grandchildren, he also continues to advance the philosophies first espoused by his father.
Washington Informer: What is the status of your mission to have your father’s name cleared through a presidential pardon?
Dr. Garvey: As you know, we first submitted our request to President Barack Obama who failed to act for reasons he never explained publicly or to me. As for President Trump, we have not made any official application to him. Usually pardons are issued at the end of a president’s term but Trump has already broken with that tradition with the pardon of Jack Johnson.
Roger Stone (Trump’s longtime confidant and former campaign advisor), for reasons still unclear to me, has suggested that Trump pardon my father. We’ve had no direct communication with Stone and I cannot say how he came to his conclusion – but I agree with his reasons. That said, we continue to press on.
WI: In previous interviews with the press, you’ve talked about how difficult it was during your childhood with your father being labeled as a criminal. How did you make the transition that changed your perspective?
Dr. Garvey: Like all others, maturity comes with attending school and college, reading and throughout one’s professional life. In my case, especially as I moved from one country to another, I became exposed to many different cultures and eventually developed a more expansive understanding of how the world works. As a child, with my dad being imprisoned both in Jamaica and in the U.S., his imprisonment came with certain connotations. But my mother raised me, as well as my brother (Marcus Jr.), and taught me how my father was victimized on two fronts: in Jamaica, under a colonial system of oppression and in the U.S., by a racist system that disadvantaged African Americans and remained intent on keeping them down in terms of their rightful expression as human beings. This was imparted on me at a very early age.
As I have read, traveled and studied, I have come to understand the impact of globalization, economic materialism and the ramifications of white supremacy as I moved from one plantation to another. In time, my thoughts have crystalized and coincided with my father’s evaluation. Looking back 100 years since he came to us, I realize that not a lot has changed. Even though people of color have achieved more political and social autonomy, we’re still deprived equal economic opportunities in terms of being able to develop our own communities. Blacks are still at the bottom of the ladder so to speak in the U.S. hierarchy as well as in the social and economic order. The economic order should actually be placed first as it determines one’s social order in the U.S. – a country that professes to be an economic democracy.
WI: Where do we go from here?
Dr. Garvey: My father’s teachings and solutions are still relevant. Self-sufficiency and unity of all African people globally, not just on the continent but throughout the Diaspora, should be our first goal. The system that oppresses us is a worldwide system of globalism and a material conception of society. As African people, we have a different conception of society, primarily spiritual, and only secondarily material. That’s what has allowed us to stay alive. But we need to develop an economic base so we can grow in terms of our own sociological, cultural and educational status based on our own understanding of the universe.
We are the original people and the original civilization. Our cosmology is one in which we are one with nature. Nature is not our enemy and is not to be exploited. Nature is our home. African praxis directs us to the truth that we are at home in the universe and should treat it as our home and nurture it. We need to validate these principles not just in our philosophy but in our children and how we educate and build their characters – who and what they become. We’ve been unable to define those characteristics for ourselves because we lack the economic basis to build our own educational system. So, we still have a long way to go in terms of realizing the means for Black self-sufficiency.
It’s not separation of the races that’s needed – we can live in the same geographical locations. Neither is it practical or even warranted. We are one race of people. But our identity as African people needs to be validated.
WI: Did you feel any additional pressure being the child of Marcus Garvey?
Dr. Garvey: Maybe a little but minimally. My brother is three years older than me and he had more pressure placed on him – plus he became more involved in politics to some degree, especially growing up in Jamaica. He became president of the organization our father founded for over 10 years. I was a physician and that was where my focus went. I had my own internal pressures – to never disgrace the family name. But I never felt any pressure to walk in my father’s footsteps.
WI: What’s on your bucket list?
Dr. Garvey: To clear my father’s name, to continue to help Africans wherever we are in the U.S. Caribbean and on the continent. And I can do more now that I’m retired. African people all need to carry forward the legacies of our leaders like Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X. Our forefathers were unable to accomplish all they wanted. It’s up to us to assume some responsibility to move us further along the arc of redemption, renaissance and the redevelopment of our people as a civilization.
WI: How do you feel about your father being recognized by the NNPA in this year’s enshrinement ceremony and do you see the Black Press as being still relevant today?
Dr. Garvey: We have to tell our own story. My dad did that successfully over time, beginning with his teenage years, learned the printing press and how to print the word. He became a journalist so that he could always be involved in telling our own story. Also, he developed his oratorical skills, in large part through his work in newspapers, other publications and public speeches. At one point his words reached between 6 and 11 million people worldwide.
Some of his readers may not have been members of the UNIA but they were supporters. Now we have other means including the internet and African Americans must take advantage of these means of communication to unite. That was his purpose: to tell our own story so we can educate our people and connect to one another.
The Black Press is just as, if not more, important as it was in the past. Those who think differently are confused. It’s a silly notion to say the Black Press doesn’t matter. Without them, no one will hear our story. History is a record of the people who won the battles. If the lion had killed the hunter, it would be a much different account. If we don’t tell our story, others will tell it for us. Those who write history dominate the system. That’s why my father fought so hard to change the system.
Who else will speak the truth and promote the thoughts, accomplishments and needs of the African Diaspora if not the Black Press?