Mail fraud charges
Garvey left school at 14 to become a printer’s apprentice. His involvement in an unsuccessful printer’s strike and the experience gave him a passion for political activism. In 1912, he sailed to London where he worked for the African Times and Orient Review and took evening classes in law at Birkbeck College.
On his return to Jamaica, he founded the UNIA, before moving to New York, where he soon got a large following and became one of the most effective public speakers.
“In the late 1910s, Harlem was seething with energy and enterprise. Millions of Southern blacks had moved north during the First World War, and with the United States gripped by strikes and race riots in the summer of 1919, there was a ready-made audience for Garvey’s gospel of black nationalism. Within a couple of years, he was not merely the best speaker in the city, but probably the most famous black man in the nation,” according to an article by The Telegraph.
His biggest project which would later be his downfall was the Black Star Line, an all-black steamship company that was launched in 1919 to rival the luxurious White Star Line, whose flagship was the Titanic.
“The Black Star Line presents to every black man, woman and child the opportunity to climb the great ladder of industrial and commercial success,” Garvey indicated of the company that bought three ships and made huge profits as followers trooped to buy millions of dollars of stocks.
But the company started having issues with stock sales and attempts to raise money for a fourth ship led to Garvey being charged with mail fraud.
The accusation was that the company had displayed a nonexistent ship and was grossly misrepresenting the firm in stock sales.
Even though officials did not get any evidence that Garvey had intended to fill his pockets, during his trial in February 23, it was reported that an inspection of the Black Star Line books showed that there were “clear improprieties, lost receipts, in one instance a $476,000 chunk that simply couldn’t be accounted for.”
Basically, Garvey was accused of running the company into liquidation, and he was quickly convicted.
On June 23, 1923, Garvey was sentenced to five years in prison but he appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, and still went ahead to stage rallies across Harlem about his black nationalism movement till late August 1924.
He, however, lost his appeal and in February 1925, he began his sentence. Two years later, President Calvin Coolidge, who acknowledged that Garvey’s prosecution had been politically motivated, commuted the sentence.