Magazine article The New Crisis

Mrs. Garvey

Magazine article The New Crisis

Mrs. Garvey

Article excerpt

A pioneering feminist and Pan-African freedom fighter

The life and times of Amy Jacques Garvey challenge our understanding of Marcus Garvey and Garveyism and unveil the complicated reality of black radical. Although Jacques Garvey was bornin Jamaica on 31 December 1895, empowered by her father's teachings, she assumed her political identity in earnest in 1919, when she affiliated herself with the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Harlem, New York, as a private secretary to its leader, Marcus Garvey. As Garvey's personal secretary, confidante, and later second wife, she worked closely with him to keep the movement afloat, and as the archivist for the organization, she kept meticulous records of his speeches and the efforts of other activists determined to empower Africas at "home" and throughout the diaspora. Moreover, when Amy and Marcus married in 1922, she fully embraced the endeavor "to be conversant with subjects that would help in his career, and [to] try to make home a haven of rest and comfrt for him." This view of herself as a helpmate to Garvey would be transformed. As Jacques Garvey grew beyond the color and class boundaries that had permeated her world during her formative years, she became an independent Pan-African intellectual of stellar proportion.

-from the introduction by Ula Yvette Taylor

The early years of the Amy Jacques-Marcus Garvey burgeoning courtship and subsequent marriage paralleled the zenith of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Black people had begun to gravitate to the organization in 1916, and by 1923 it claimed a membership of six million, with at least nine hundred branches five hundred throughout the United States alone, and the rest in Canada, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Great Britain, and Africa. Garvey himself, of course, was a prominent reason for the organization's growth. Garvey's presence explains why the Harlem branch - the organization's headquarters - had the largest estimated membership, at thirty-five thousand. No other Pan-African or black nationalist organization could document comparable statistics. Obviously, the black masses worldwide had responded to the UNIA s platform: to generate global economic connections between Africans living in the Caribbean, North America, and Africa via its passenger and shipping fleet (the Black Star Line); to redeem Africa from European colonists; and ultimately to link a diasporic identity with a legal African nationality.

As the organization grew, so did the public role of Amy Jacques Garvey. One month after her marriage in 1922, the annual UNIA August convention (marking the date of slave emancipation in the British colonies) took place in Harlem. Jacques Garvey was still working behind the scenes, never once sharing the limelight with her husband/Yet the issues raised at this meeting provide a sense of the concerns that were escalating when Jacques became Garvey's wife.

The UNIA's constitution was very different from that of most black organizations in that women were well integrated into the movement's structure. These [lady] delegates demanded that women be placed in "important" positions within "the organization to help refine and mold public sentiment." They wanted absolute control over the UNIA auxiliaries, the Black Cross Nurses (women who performed duties similar to Red Cross nurses), and Motor Corps (car fleets), as well as more recognition on committees. Overall, they insisted on empowerment "so that the Negro women all over the world can function without restriction from men."

Garvey's initial response to the women's resolution was that he did not see any reason for change, "as the women already had the power they were asking for under the constitution...." The women delegates, however, were passionate enough about their position to override class, geography, and other distinctions among themselves and unite against Garvey in a way that UNIA men were unable to replicate. …

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