- Feb 28, 2009
Amy Ashwood Garvey (1897 -1969)
Amy Ashwood, feminist, playwright, lecturer, and pan-Africanist, was one of the founding members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association in Jamaica, and the first wife of Marcus Garvey. Ashwood was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica, and spent several years of her childhood in Panama. She returned to Jamaica to attend high school and met Marcus Garvey at a debating society program in July 1914, when she was seventeen years old. Ashwood became the first secretary and a member of the board of management of the newly formed U.N.I.A. in 1914 - 1915. She worked with Garvey in organizing the inaugural meeting in Collegiate Hall in Kingston, the weekly Tuesday night elocution meetings, and the office that was soon established in a house on Charles Street rented by the Ashwood family. She also helped to establish the Ladies' auxiliary wing of the movement and was involved in early plans to build an industrial school.
According to her memoirs, Ashwood was courted by Garvey during those early years with love letters referring to her as "My Josephine" and signed from "Your devoted Napoleon, Marcus." The two became secretly engaged; her parents, who did not approve of the match, arranged her return to Panama in 1916. Garvey traveled to the United States the same spring. Ashwood and Garvey were reunited in New York in September 1918 and she became, in the words of a Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent, his "chief assistant, a kind of managing boss," working as she had in Jamaica to organize the movement in the United States. She became the general secretary of the organization in 1919 and was one of the first directors of the Black Star Line. She put her life on the line for Garvey, helping to shield him when he was shot by George Tyler at the U.N.I.A. offices in October 1919.
After their long courtship, Ashwood and Garvey were married in a private Catholic church ceremony, followed by an elaborate public ceremony and reception at Liberty Hall, on Christmas Day, 1919. But their marriage soon failed, and their relationship became acrimonious. Garvey finally obtained a divorce (which Ashwood challenged in court and never recognized) in July 1922, and later the same month, married Amy Jacques -- Ashwood's friend, maid of honor at the Garveys' 1919 wedding, and Ashwood's replacement as Garvey's companion and personal secretary since 1920.
In the years following her separation from Garvey, Ashwood became a world traveler and remained active in politics and the arts.
Tony Martin tells Amy Ashwood Garvey's story
published: Tuesday | May 8, 2007
For Dr. Tony Martin, lecturer at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, Liberty Hall at 76 King Street, Kingston, is the perfect place to present Amy Ashwood Garvey, Pan-Africanist, Feminist and Mrs. Marcus Garvey No. 1, Or, A Tale of Two Amies to the public.
It is not only that the Liberty Halls worldwide were at the heart of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), founded by Marcus Garvey, but this particular location was at the centre of a coup of sorts by his first wife, Amy Ashwood Garvey.
And it is there that Martin will present her story tomorrow, at 6:00 p.m., three days before the 38th anniversary of her death.
"She had a sort of coup in the UNIA," Martin said of Amy Ashwood Garvey. This was when she was in Jamaica between 1939 and 1944, a period when Mrs. Marcus Garvey No. 2, Amy Jacques Garvey, was also in Jamaica."
Branches of the UNIA
Marcus Mosiah Garvey, in his newspaper 'The Black Man', recorded the struggle of the unemployed before the 1938 Labour riots. - contributed
"There were two functioning branches of the UNIA. One would meet at Liberty Hall, while the other would meet at Eloweis Park," Martin said. The former was loyal to Amy Jacques and the latter to Amy Ashwood, but at one point Amy Ashwood "engineered a coup and took over Liberty Hall. She began calling herself president-general of the UNIA".
It could not have helped that Amy Jacques had been maid of honour at the wedding of Marcus Garvey and Amy Ashwood Garvey in 1919.
Amy Ashwood Garvey, Pan-Africanist, Feminist and Mrs. Marcus Garvey No. 1, Or, A Tale of Two Amies is the latest addition to what Martin calls the New Marcus Garvey Library. He published the first book in the ongoing series, Race First, in 1976, coming out of his Ph.D. dissertation in 1973. At 27 years in the making, Martin says "this is by far the longest I have spent on any book."
His most important source was Amy Ashwood Garvey's papers, consisting of letters, scripts and photographs. Martin points out that she wrote many manuscripts, none of which was published. The papers were in a number of locations, Martin accessing them from her friends Lionel Yard and Ivy Constable Richards, the National Library of Jamaica, in London and in Chicago from the former head of the UNIA, the Hon. Charles L. Jones.
The result of the research and honing of the text is "a mixed portrait ... I think she made her mistakes. As a biographer, I wanted to be true to the record. I found myself in some places having to walk a tightrope."
Martin pointed out that Amy Ashwood Garvey only lived with her husband for two to three months and "Garvey accused her of infidelity. My research suggests that this is the case. I couldn't leave it out of the book, but I didn't want her to look bad." Garvey also accused her of stealing and Martin says "it seemed she really did appropriate some money. I had to mention it, but pulled my punches."
"There are some positives. She was an important Pan-Africanist in her own right. In 1924, in London, she started an important organisation," Martin said. That was the Nigerian Progress Union, later to become the West African Students Union (WASU). "WASU is one of the most important organisations in the history of Pan-Africanism," Martin said, pointing out that Kwame Nkrumah was once president.
"In 1946, she was able to trace her ancestry back to Asante in Ghana...