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Garvey, Amy Ashwood

Garvey, Amy Ashwood

January 18, 1897
May 3, 1969

Pan-Africanist Amy Ashwood was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica. Educated in Panama and Jamaica, she first met Marcus Garvey in 1914 while attending high school in Jamaica. Garvey launched the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) a few days after the two met; Ashwood, considered by some a cofounder of the organization, was at least its second member. An excellent public speaker, she worked actively to establish and promote the incipient movement in Jamaica and served as its executive secretary.

Ashwood left for Panama in 1916 and did not meet Garvey again until 1918, when she came to New York. In the United States, she busied herself with UNIA work: traveling across the country making speeches and recruiting new members, working on its journal, Negro World, and helping manage the new Black Star Line Steamship Corporation. In 1919 she is reported to have saved Garvey's life by placing her body between him and a disgruntled former employee who wanted to shoot him and then wrestling the would-be assassin to the ground.

Ashwood married Garvey in New York City at Liberty Hall on December 25, 1919. However, by the middle of the following year, the marriage ended acrimoniously, with accusations of infidelity on both sides. Garvey, in addition, charged Ashwood with misappropriating funds; she countered that the UNIA leader was politically inept. Garvey received a divorce in 1922, which Ashwood later contested, and promptly married his secretary and Ashwood's childhood friend, Amy Jacques.

Following the breakup with Garvey, Ashwood left the UNIA but remained a committed Pan-Africanist all her life, taking Garvey's message to many parts of the world. In 1924 she helped found the Nigerian Progress Union in London. In New York, in 1926, she collaborated with Caribbean musician Sam Manning on the musicals Brown Sugar, Hey! Hey!, and Black Magic, intended to introduce calypso to Harlem audiences. In 1929 she left with Manning for London, where she lived until 1944.

In London Ashwood's Pan-African activities resulted in friendships with such people as C. L. R. James, George Padmore, Kwame Nkrumah, and Jomo Kenyatta; all of them frequented the West Indian restaurant she ran from 1935 to 1938, which became a famous Pan-Africanist meeting place. In 1935 she was active in organizing protests against the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. In 1945 she chaired the sessions of the fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester along with W. E. B. Du Bois.

Ashwood returned to New York briefly in 1944 and campaigned hard on behalf of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., who was seeking his first term in the House of Representatives. Ashwood spent the next few years in West Africa. In 1947 she went to Liberia on the invitation of President William Tubman. The two became close friends, and with Tubman's help Ashwood wrote an official history of Liberia, which has never been published. In 1949 she spent some time in Ghana and researched her Ashanti roots.

Ashwood divided the rest of her life between the United States, England, the Caribbean, and West Africa. A lifelong feminist, she paid greater attention to women's issues in the later years of her life. She also continued antiracist agitation in England, forming a chapter of the Association for the Advancement of Colored People in London in 1958.

Ashwood was in England in 1964 when Garvey's body was returned to Jamaica; she participated in the official ceremonies marking the occasion. During these years she also tried, unsuccessfully, to find a publisher for her biography of Garvey and the movement, which is yet to be published. Ashwood died destitute in London.

See also Garvey, Marcus; Negro World ; Pan-Africanism; Universal Negro Improvement Association


Martin, Tony. Amy Ashwood Garvey: Pan-Africanist, Feminist and Wife No. 1. Dover, Mass.: Majority Press, 1988.

Yard, Lionel M. Biography of Amy Ashwood Garvey, 18971969. New York: Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, 1989.

kevin parker (1996)

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