Amy Ashwood Garvey: Pan-Africanist, Feminist, and Mrs. Marcus Garvey No. 1; or, A Tale of Two Amys

By Walter, John C. | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, July 2008 | Go to article overview

Amy Ashwood Garvey: Pan-Africanist, Feminist, and Mrs. Marcus Garvey No. 1; or, A Tale of Two Amys


Walter, John C., Afro-Americans in New York Life and History


Tony Martin, Amy Ashwood Garvey: Pan-Africanist, Feminist, and Mrs. Marcus Garvey No. 1; Or, A Tale of Two Amys (Dover, Massachusetts: The Majority Press, Inc., 2007) 446 pages (including appendices, index, and bibliography)

Marcus Garvey has been dead since 1940 and Amy Ashwood Garvey died May 3, 1969 in Jamaica. A great deal is known about Marcus Garvey among scholars, less so among the larger population, but few people know about Amy Ashwood Garvey. Her marriage to Garvey in 1919 lasted approximately two months, and even though she remained a public figure until her death, that public varied from the United States, to Panama, to Barbados, to Suriname, to Liberia, to Ghana, to Great Britain and other places. seen and heard in a great many places during her life, Amy Ashwood Garvey was unable to establish a truly distinguishing legacy such as a book or a truly transformative idea or ideology as her husband did. The mention of her name in the United States, and even places where she lectured years ago, would prompt a bewildered look. That scholars have found it difficult to put together a focused, comprehensive view of her life is exacerbated by the greater historical presence of the second wife, Amy Jacques Garvey.

Amy Jacques Garvey is better known in Jamaica, the United States, Britain and the rest of what can be called the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) world, which includes any country with a significant African Black population, because of her book The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, Or, Africa for the Africans (published in 1923). The swelling Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s resurrected The Philosophy and Opinions and made her a name among college students and social and political activists in the United States, the Caribbean, Great Britain, and the rest of the African Diaspora. But prior to and after the rediscovery of that work, Amy Jacques Garvey lived in England and Jamaica, mostly in respectable quietude, bringing up her two sons by Marcus Garvey. For Amy Ashwood Garvey, on the other hand, life offered her no peace of mind, and very few quiet moments. It was a life of meager material rewards, of long-standing conflict, of tumult and financial insecurity until she breathed her last.

Tony Martin, the distinguished professor of African American and Caribbean history at Wellesley College is determined to rescue Amy Ashwood Garvey from obscurity, and place her not only in the forefront of the Marcus Garvey pantheon, but also in the feminist and Pan-African movements of the twentieth century. His book, Amy Ashwood Garvey: Pan-Africanist, Feminist, and Mrs. Marcus Garvey No. I, Or, A Tale of Two Amies is, indeed, a marvel of scholarship. He tells us that he worked on this book for some twenty-seven years, and it shows. The number of references alone is enough to inspire awe. Martin has done everything and has been everywhere, in the quest to present Amy Ashwood Garvey as a real person, bereft of any unnecessary sociological or psychological encrustations. In doing so, Martin also presents facts and insights on the life of Marcus Garvey hitherto unknown. For example, he reports that Garvey successfully produced the First International Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World in 1920, despite the attacks on him from the Black and white American middle class and from various agencies of the U.S. government-including the ever-ready FBI-and from his estranged first wife, Amy Ashwood Garvey.

Marcus Garvey met Amy Ashwood in Kingston, Jamaica in July of 1914 (according to her) at a literary debate sponsored by a church. There, according to Amy, he told her that she was his "star of destiny" and that like Napoleon Bonaparte, he had found his Josephine. At the outset of the UNIA, a major objective was to establish in Jamaica a school very much like the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama of his hero, Booker T. Washington:

To establish education and industrial (day and evening) training courses for the purpose of the further education and culture of our boys and girls. …

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