Black People : The women in the life of National Hero Marcus Garvey..A Tale of Two Amies

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    The women in the life of National Hero Marcus Garvey

    by BASIL WALTERS, all woman writer
    Monday, August 06, 2007

    TWO of the foremost women in the life of Marcus Garvey have been put under the spotlight by prominent author and historian, Professor Tony Martin.

    In his latest book, Amy Ashwood Garvey, Pan-Africanist, Feminist and Mrs Marcus Garvey No 1 or A Tale of Two Amies, he looks at the interesting paradoxes in the roles of both women in such a way, that he is already being accused of being anti-feminist.

    The Jamaican launch of the book was held in early May, appropriately at Liberty Hall in downtown Kingston. The anti-feminist accusation was a response to the author's claiming that Amy Ashwood, Garvey's first wife, was guilty of infidelity.

    That apart, A Tale of Two Amies ... is chock -full of amazing facts about the National Hero's two wives. At a post-launch interview at the Knutsford Court Hotel, Martin defended his account of both women and shared some of the interesting similarities of the 'two Amies'.

    Imagine two best friends having the same name, who were roommates at one point, and at different times, Garvey's secretary, before one became the maid of honour, and the other eventually blamed her for the failure of her marriage.
    "As you know, Garvey was married twice. And both his wives had the same name, Amy," Martin told all woman. "The two of them were actually best friends at some time. They were roommates in Harlem, and the second wife was actually the maid of honour at the first wife's wedding. It's a very close and unusual situation. So it's impossible to write a biography of one Amy and not mention the other.

    "So even though I wasn't really focusing on the other one, Amy Jacques, inevitably she got mentioned. They were both from Jamaica, both good friends, best friends... Like I said, one was the wife, one the maid of honour, that's how close they were."

    Garvey is now well known as arguably the greatest Pan-Africanist of all time. To Rastafarians, he is seen as a saint and prophet. His Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), founded in 1914, had a membership at its peak in the 1920s, of millions of people spread over more than 40 countries.

    Born 49 years after slavery ended in Jamaica, Garvey whose 120th birthday anniversary will be celebrated on August 17, built his organisation on the principles of Black Nationalism, which inevitably meant having to do battle with integrationists, Communists, and powerful white governments in the Americas and Europe. Both Amies were activists in his organisation.

    "The first Amy, the one that this book is about, Amy Ashwood, before she got married to Garvey, she was his private secretary. And then after she married Garvey, the second one became Garvey's private secretary. A very unusual situation," Martin pointed out.

    "Well of course, everything fell apart," he continued, "Obviously Amy Ashwood, she blamed Amy Jacques for the break of their marriage. Although my feelings from the research that I did, is that there were other factors. Garvey accused her (Ashwood) of infidelity and based on my research, I think he was correct."

    He added: "She was very unfaithful. She was unfaithful with all kinds of people, including members of the UNIA itself. And if Garvey is to be believed, the infidelity began in Jamaica. You see, he met her in Jamaica in 1914, within days after he came back from England. He was in England for two years and he came back in the summer of 1914. And then they began going around almost immediately. And they became engaged somewhere around 1915 or so. And Garvey subsequently said that she was being unfaithful even in that early period.

    "She went to Panama and he came to the States, so they were separated for about two years or so. Then she had a very heavy love affair in Panama and I think she was even thinking of getting married to the guy in Panama. But she ended up back in Harlem in 1919, they were reunited and they began going around again. They were married on Christmas Day in 1919."

    He said after the wedding, they went to Canada for the honeymoon, but Garvey was also working. The second wife went along too, as she was his private secretary.

    He said that when they came back from the honeymoon, about two months after, he left Ashwood.

    "So they actually lived together for about two months. The feminists kind of attacked me. From [their] perspective Amy Ashwood is like a feminist icon - liberated woman, free to do what she wants... But I'm an historian, I have to go with the evidence wherever it takes me. And that is the result of our research," he said.

    Jacques married Garvey in 1922 and she remained his wife until his death. The two had two sons.

    "Both ladies were outstanding intellectuals and this is one of the things that makes Garvey so unusual," Martin said. "Because not one but both of his wives were great speakers.

    They were orators, they were into the movement, they were Pan-Africanists, they really shared his vision. When he started the Negro World newspaper, she (Ashwood) was there with him. The second one was editor of his newspaper and associate-editor. She is the one who put together the Philosophy and Opinion of Marcus Garvey. That's Amy Jacques. That's was how active she was."