Amy Ashwood Garvey (1895/18971969), by unknown photographer
Garvey, Amy Ashwood (1895/18971969), pan-African organizer and feminist, is variously recorded as having been born on 18 January 1895 and on 10 January 1897, in Port Antonio, Jamaica. She was the only daughter among three children of Michael Delbert Ashwood, businessman, and his wife, Maudriana Thompson. She was taken to Panama as an infant but returned in 1904 to Jamaica, where she attended the Westwood High School for Girls.
In 1914 Amy met , who was just back from England, and within days she had become a member of his new Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which was to become the largest pan-African mass movement. Marcus Garvey's dream was to unite the African race through his association. Amy Ashwood worked closely with him, first as friend and later as fiancée. He left for the United States in 1916 but was reunited with Amy in 1918 in New York, by which time he had re-established the UNIA in Harlem. Together they travelled around North America, and Amy became a director of the UNIA's Black Star Line Steamship Corporation. In October 1919 she helped to save Marcus Garvey's life from a would-be assassin, and on Christmas day of that year they married. The union was substantially over within three months, leaving the couple embroiled in divorce and related lawsuits. Marcus Garvey later married his former wife's chief bridesmaid, Amy Jacques.
Amy visited England and Europe from 1921 to 1924. In London she founded the Nigerian Progress Union, a precursor to the important West African Students' Union. In 1924 she returned to New York, where she produced musical comedies in collaboration with Trinidad calypso musician and her lifelong companion, Sam Manning. Amy and Manning toured the Caribbean (19291931) with a musical show, on the heels of Marcus Garvey, who had been deported to Jamaica in 1927.
From 1934 to 1938 Amy lived in England. She ran a restaurant and club in London's West End and was an active member of radical organizations led by C. L. R. James and George Padmore. She and Manning again collaborated on musical shows. Marcus Garvey was also in London at this time and the former lovers had a chance encounter in 1938. Amy spent some time in New York in 1939 before returning to Jamaica, where she remained until 1944; there she formed the short-lived J. A. G. Smith Political Party.
Back in Harlem, Amy became a fixture at radical gatherings. She associated with the West Indies National Council and Paul Robeson's Council on African Affairs; she also campaigned for Adam Clayton Powell jun., African America's first congressman from Harlem. Because of these activities she was kept under FBI surveillance. She returned to England in 1945 in time for the fifth Pan-African Congress, and chaired its first session. Also at this time she thwarted, via a legal injunction, an initiative by Marcus Garvey's second wife to have his remains repatriated to Jamaica.
In 1946 Amy travelled to west Africa, and in Liberia she began a long-lasting love affair with President William V. S. Tubman. In the Asante kingdom she was able to trace her roots to the village of Juaben, and she was welcomed home as a long-lost daughter by the Asantehene, King Prempeh II. In Nigeria she did extensive research into the condition of women and lectured to women's groups.
In 1949 Amy was back in England and was able to welcome the post-war influx of Caribbean immigrants. In 1953 she toured the Caribbean for seven months, addressing women's groups. In the same year she established the Afro Peoples Centre at 1 Bassett Road, Ladbroke Grove, London. This building, which became a well-known community centre, was purchased for her by an English MP, Sir Hamilton Kerr. Following the Notting Hill riots of 1958 she worked to obtain justice for Caribbean immigrants. In another important initiative she helped to found the Association for the Advancement of Coloured People; this had influential support from Dr David Pitt and Fenner Brockway MP, who both served as vice-presidents.
Amy returned to Africa in 1960 but was back in London four years later, when the Jamaican government renewed its efforts to repatriate Marcus Garvey's remains. This time she was persuaded to co-operate, and she spent the next three years mostly in Jamaica and Trinidad. In 19678 she was in the United States, where the black power generation rediscovered her. There she produced a gramophone record celebrating Marcus Garvey's work.
Amy returned to Jamaica in 1968 with failing health, and died in Kingston on 3 May 1969. Though she had wished to be buried in Liberia this was beyond the slender resources of her few friends, and she was buried instead, on Sunday 11 May 1969, in Kingston's Calvary cemetery. Despite never attaining the historical prominence of her famous associates Amy Ashwood Garvey was an important figure during several decades of pan-African endeavour.
Amy Ashwood Garvey papers [formerly in the possession of Lionel M. Yard of Brooklyn, New York; present whereabouts unknown] · priv. coll., London, Amy Ashwood Garvey papers · National Library of Jamaica, Kingston, Amy Ashwood Garvey papers · T. Martin, Amy Ashwood Garvey: pan-Africanist, feminist and wife no. 1 (1988) · T. Martin, Discovering African roots: Amy Ashwood Garvey's pan-Africanist journey, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 17/1 (1997) · L. M. Yard, Biography of Amy Ashwood Garvey, 18871969 [n.d., 1987?] · T. Martin, The pan-African connection (1983) · private information (2004) [I. Constable Richards]
priv. coll., papers
NYPL, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, interview
photograph, Amy Ashwood Garvey Archive [see illus.]
Wealth at death
practically nothing: private information (2004) [I. Constable Richards]