More than 50 years ago, poet and publisher Haki Madhubuti issued a call for independent Black book producers and sellers to unite and work for the common good of the Black community. That call bore little immediate fruit, but recently a coalition of these publishers, booksellers, and distributors did just that—mobilizing to support something many in the Black and global communities deem critically important: the posthumous pardon of Marcus Mosiah Garvey (1887–1940) from all the unjust charges lodged against him by the U.S. government a hundred years ago.

Support for Garvey, a legendary Black hero who preached Pan-African unity and independence in the early 20th century, was, in my view, a no-brainer. Through the organization he founded, the Universal Negro Improvement Association, and that group’s several business entities, Garvey organized millions of Black people in the U.S. and around the world under the banners of self-reliance, economic cooperation, and “industrial, political, social, and religious emancipation.” Yet as his prominence grew, he became an easy target for derision and assault by the U.S. and European colonial governments and less radically disposed Blacks. He eventually was sent to prison in 1923 on trumped-up mail fraud charges. His conviction and later deportation, to Jamaica, have long unsettled the Black activist community, and calls for his exoneration have been continuous since his conviction.

In addition to publishing the Negro World, the most widely read Black newspaper during his time, Garvey, a former printer’s apprentice, had a burning interest in book publishing and selling. Books like those UNIA published, promoted, and sold have become essential reading for serious students of Black liberation struggles. Black leaders from Martin Luther King Jr. to Malcolm X have acknowledged Garvey’s contributions, and it is almost impossible to examine Black efforts toward empowerment over the last hundred years and not see his imprint.

Garvey’s enthusiastic and unapologetic promotion of positive Black images and literature is the model adhered to by the most enduring Black book publishers in the U.S.: Third World Press (the oldest), Black Classic Press (my firm), Africa World Press, and Just Us Books. After surviving decades of turmoil—financial, social, and otherwise—our houses currently are witnessing renewed interest, growth, and stability. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and global pandemic, and with decades of publishing experience behind us, our operations have stabilized enough to spawn something else Madhubuti called for in the 1970s: a network of independent Black book distributors. Today, this includes Chicago’s Lushena Books and Afrikan World Books in Baltimore.

Among U.S. independent Black booksellers, Marcus Books, the oldest and a Garvey namesake, also traces its origins back to the Garvey-inspired Black Power movement of the 1960s. Founded in Oakland, Calif., and supported and supplied for decades by Black publishers, distributors, and clientele, it and other Black bookstores historically have served as centers of corrective information for Black people. It is today joined by a rising number of up-and-coming Black bookstores, including Mahogany Books in Washington, D.C., and the Dock Bookshop in Fort Worth, Tex.

Just as Garvey’s legacy gave sustenance to Black publishing, bookselling, and book distribution in the 20th century, key players from these sectors joined together to fight on his behalf in the 21st. In early January 2022, a hastily forged coalition of Black publishers, booksellers, and distributors united to support efforts by Garvey’s surviving son, Dr. Julius Garvey, and others to obtain a presidential pardon for Garvey by collecting the minimum 100,000 signatures required and sent directly to the White House. Given just over 30 days (as per White House rules) to craft and disseminate a formal online petition, this significant partnership sprang into action like Garvey, mobilizing grassroots and business participants albeit on a virtual, global stage.

Emails, calls, and press releases were hurriedly sent to rally the Black publishers, booksellers, and distributors base. In less than 24 hours, more than 35 responded emphatically: “Yes!” Ramunda Young of Mahogany Books and Donya Craddock from the Dock Bookshop coordinated the booksellers. Representing Black Classic Press, my task was to keep the publishers and distributors engaged and informed. Everyone was encouraged to circulate the petition materials “by any means necessary” to their circles of influence—in-person, on their websites, and through social media. We together hosted multiple Zoom meetings to spread the word to the general public.

In just days, participating bookstores created and distributed Marcus Garvey booklists and display materials, hosted in-store book talks, and held relevant discussion groups. Mahogany Books topped the promotion efforts by creating a full-size entry-door graphic of Garvey, complete with a QR code linking scanners directly to the online petition. These and other attention-grabbing activities continued for the entire 30-day campaign.

Although we believe our petition-supporting coalition was effective, the White House only selectively responds to such campaigns. We now must wait for President Biden to make his decision. But the mere fact that Marcus Garvey’s legacy brought together the three publishing sectors is of significant importance. It is a first, and one that may open doors to all kinds of combined future efforts.

Steadfast and indomitable as Garvey was in his time, our collective action proved once again that Garvey’s memory continues to propel independent Black publishers, booksellers, distributors, and their diverse customers and followers into action. It showed, in our time, that those mighty forces could be banded together to accomplish, as Garvey claimed, “what you will” in the ongoing, multilayered struggle to combat racism and injustice.

I for one see that as progress.

W. Paul Coates is the founder, in 1978, of Black Classic Press, which specializes in republishing obscure and significant works by and about people of African descent, and Black Classic Press’s associated BCP Digital Printing, which produces books and documents on demand.