G Garvey, Amy Ashwood (18 Jan. 1897-3 May 1969),
Pan-African activist and feminist, was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica, one of three children of Michael Delbert Ashwood and Maudriana Thompson. She was raised in Panama, where her father ran a restaurant and worked as a printer. Supported by her family in her desire for education, she returned to Jamaica to attend a high school for girls. It was as a teenager in Kingston that she became the close associate of the young Marcus Garvey, whom she met participating in a debating society. The two founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Kingston in 1914. Intended at first as an uplift and education movement with targeted local goals, the UNIA soon took on a much wider, and eventually global, political and cultural significance.
With the aid of leading radical West Indian intellectuals living and working in New York City, Garvey established UNIA headquarters there between 1916 and 1918. Over the next two decades local branches or divisions were founded in hundreds of towns, cities, and rural hamlets in the United States and internationally. Ashwood joined Garvey in Harlem in 1918 as UNIA secretary. She organized the women's wing of the organization and worked to promote the UNIA's influential Negro World newspaper, which carried editorials and reported the news of the grassroots work of the movement in the United States, the Caribbean, Africa, and other parts of the world. Like Garvey, she was a dynamic and motivating speaker, and she accompanied Garvey on organizing tours. As one of the directors of the UNIA's Black Star Line shipping enterprise, she was also involved in the promotion of the economic mission of the organization and its ideals of African self-sovereignty and repatriation.
Amy Ashwood and Marcus Garvey were married in the UNIA's Liberty Hall in New York City on Christmas Day 1919 in an elaborate ceremony much celebrated by Garveyites. Their marriage proved a stormy clash of two powerful personalities. It was rocked by charges of infidelity and domestic abuse, leading to acrimonious divorce proceedings. Ashwood was soon replaced, first as secretary and professional confidante, and then as Garvey's wife, by the more elegantly mannered and middle-class Amy Jacques Garvey. Jacques became an iconic figure within the Garvey movement in her own right, as an editor and writer, and eventually as widow of, and standard-bearer for, Marcus Garvey.
As the UNIA continued to grow internationally, Ashwood moved from the United States to England before her divorce from Garvey was finalized in 1922. She became an important figure in black London, where she helped forge a strong social network of African political intellectuals, many of them African students living in Britain. She was friends with the Nigerian political activist Ladipo Solanke and helped to found the Nigerian Progress Union (NPU, later incorporated into the West African Students' Union [WASU]) in 1924. The NPU hostel was a social center for young African activists. Ashwood made it into a salon, where students gathered to discuss African art and literature, promote young artists and writers, and share interest and debate about African independence movements.
In late 1924 Ashwood returned to New York to promote African-American performing arts. She worked as a playwright and theater producer in Harlem and collaborated with the Trinidadian actor, composer, and calypso performer Sam Manning, who became a close friend. Manning had previously organized benefit concerts for the UNIA. The two teamed up to produce three musicals--Hey, Hey!, Brown Sugar, and Black Magic--all of which had short runs at the Lafayette Theatre in New York and other venues in the United States and the Caribbean.
Economic downturns brought Ashwood back to England in the mid-1930s. In 1936 she opened the Florence Mills Social Parlour, a nightclub and social gathering place in London's West End. The venue attracted a who's who of African and Afro-Caribbean independence leaders and intellectuals, including the Guyanese activist Ras T. Makonnen, the Trinidadian journalists George Padmore and C. L. R. James, the future Kenyan leader Jomo Kenyatta, and the Ghanaian scholar J. B. Danquah. When Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, Ashwood helped to found the International African Friends of Abyssinia (IAFA, later the International African Service Bureau [IASB]) and served as IAFA treasurer and IASB vice president. The IAFA rallied against the Italian invasion, lobbied for economic sanctions against Italy, and established an Ethiopian self-defense fund. Ashwood also revived her ties with Solanke and the WASU, and appeared as a speaker with Padmore in public programs in several cities.
In the 1940s Ashwood's activism turned increasingly toward the education of girls and the fostering of black wage-working women's rights, as well as party politics and continued Pan-Africanism. She moved back to Jamaica during World War II and ran a school of domestic science for girls. She also became involved in Kingston civic issues. In 1944 she journeyed to the United States and campaigned for Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., cofounder of the National Negro Congress, in his successful election to Congress as the first black representative of New York City. She participated in the 1944 "Africa-New Perspectives" conference of the Council on African Affairs (CAA) with the actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson and the future Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah, and in April 1945 attended the Colonial Conference convened by the historian W. E. B. Du Bois. She spoke for women's rights in meetings of the West Indies National Council and at CAA rallies, and she founded the nonprofit Afro-Women's International Alliance to provide day care, adult education, and aid to mothers living in poverty. She helped organize the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England, which she addressed in October 1945 on the issue of black workingwomen and fair wages.
While Marcus Garvey never actually traveled to Africa, Ashwood went frequently. She embarked on a tour to meet with West African women, teachers, and schoolchildren and raise political awareness on women's issues beginning in the spring of 1946. Hosted at Las Palmas by the Liberian president William V. S. Tubman, with whom she had a close relationship, she went on to Sierra Leone. She attempted to found a school for girls in Ghana but, unable to raise sufficient funds, moved on to Nigeria. There she founded a Women's Political Action Committee and conducted ethnological fieldwork on local customs and women's status, while lecturing on behalf of women.
Ashwood moved between England, Africa, Trinidad, and Jamaica in the last period of her life. She organized for the labor rights of black workingwomen in the West Indies and established the Afro-Women's Center in Notting Hill, London, which provided vocational education and job training for women. With the journalist Claudia Jones, she ran a new organization from the center called the Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, which worked on civil rights issues, especially lynching and racial violence. In 1957 Ashwood attended ceremonies celebrating independence in Ghana. She entered into unfortunate trade investments with Sam Manning, who died in Ghana in 1961, and returned to England impoverished and ill. In 1965 she moved back to Jamaica, where she founded the Marcus Garvey Benevolent Foundation, a social welfare umbrella agency. She lectured in New York and California on black nationalist topics from 1967 to 1969, when she succumbed to cancer in Kingston, Jamaica.
Amy Ashwood Garvey was a crucial supporter and leader in the formational period of the UNIA, between 1914 and 1922. She was a strong advocate for the organization's black nationalist economic and political goals and its platform of Pan-African unity. As an organizer, officer, speaker, and policy maker she established precedent and frameworks for women's extensive participation in the movement in a variety of roles. Her experience in the top echelon of the UNIA, and her involvement in radical black rights networks in Kingston, Harlem, and London, were springboards for a life of international Pan-Africanism. As an educator, playwright, producer, social worker, lecturer, and activist, as well as a promoter of African arts, her work wedded together black pride and political change efforts in Africa, Great Britain, the United States, and the Caribbean. Her legacy is particularly strong in the arena of African independence and cultural appreciation, and as a pioneer in ongoing efforts to improve the status of black women globally.