Click here to print page

Bill coming to remove criminal records of heroes and freedom fighters

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, August 17, 2017

MINISTER of Culture, Gender, Entertainment, and Sport Olivia “Babsy” Grange confirmed last night that the Government will be tabling a Bill in Parliament, by October, to fully absolve Jamaican national heroes of criminal liability.

In fact, the Jamaica Observer has learnt that the Bill, titled “A Bill to Absolve National Heroes and Freedom Fighters of Criminality” will not only absolve Marcus Garvey, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon as national heroes, but others, including a fourth national hero, Sam Sharpe, and dozens of freedom fighters, including Tacky.

“It is part of our thrust to right the wrongs and clear the names of our freedom fighters,” Grange said last night as she announced plans for today's celebration of the 130th anniversary of the birth of Garvey, Jamaica's first national hero.

Garvey was sentenced to prison locally in 1929 after he made a political speech in which he referred to corrupt Jamaican judges. This followed the confiscation of property owned by the Universal Negro Improvement Association, which he founded, on the orders of the chief justice.

This followed Garvey's deportation to Jamaica from the United States in November 1927 after being imprisoned in Georgia, USA, on mail fraud charges. It was also after he was elected councillor for the Allman Town Division of the Kingston and St Andrew Council (KSAC) in 1929.

Garvey became founder of Jamaica's first modern political party, the People's Political Party (PPP), in September 1929.

Despite the tribulation which led to Garvey losing his council seat that year, by 1930 he was re-elected, unopposed, to the KSAC along with two other members of the PPP.

In 1931 he launched Edelweiss (Park) Amusement Company in Kingston as the platform for Jamaica's fetal entertainment industry, with names like Kid Harold, Bim & Bam, Ernest Cupidon, and Ranny Williams.

He left Jamaica for London in 1935, where he lived until his death in relative obscurity in 1940.

In 1987, then Prime Minister Edward Seaga, who was instrumental in having Garvey remains returned to Jamaica and buried at National Heroes' Park and made him Jamaica's first national hero in 1969, also piloted a decision to pardon him from the criminal sentence in 1929.

There has been concern over the need to include Garvey among the heroes who will be absolved under the new Bill, since he had been pardoned.

However, there has been concern that while the pardon may have relieved him from the embarrassment of his imprisonment, “it did not relieve the pain of his conviction”.

The new Bill will include provisions to remove the names of all “freedom fighters” associated with early anti-slavery leaders, including Bogle, Sharpe, Tacky, and Nanny, from the records as criminals.

This year's celebration of the anniversary of Garvey's birth will start this morning with the formal wreath-laying ceremony at National Heroes' Park starting at 8:00 followed by a civic ceremony hosted by the St Ann Municipal Corporation at Lawrence Park, starting at 4:00 pm and the annual Marcus Garvey Lecture at Liberty Hall in downtown Kingston.