This week’s open threads will focus on the accomplishments of Black Feminists/Womanists.
Amy Euphemia Jacques Garvey (31 December 1895 – 25 July 1973) was the second wife of Marcus Garvey, and a journalist and activist in her own right. She was born to George Samuel and Charlotte Henrietta (née South) Jacques, in Kingston, Jamaica.
Amy Jacques Garvey was a pioneering journalist and activist. She came to New York in 1917 and soon after became involved with publishing of the Negro World newspaper in Harlem from its inception in August 1918, highlighting the voices of Black women by publishing their writings in a column of the newspaper.
As the eldest child of George Samuel and Charlotte Henrietta, Amy was raised in a middle-class home with bourgeois Victorian values. Taylor in her account of the life of Amy Jacques Garvey refers to Amy as being “mulatta”. Charlotte Henrietta was half white, and her father was a dark-skinned black. Taylor goes on to explain that her mixed race heavily influenced her upbringing. At a young age Amy was taught to play the piano and took courses in music appreciation because music and music appreciation were believed to be considered the “cultural finishing to a girl’s education”. Amy was a part of a small minority of Jamaican youth to attend high school. It was believed that at the time less than 2% of the youth in Jamaica attended high school. Her political ideologies were derived as a direct result of her father. He urged her to read periodicals and newspapers to “enhance” her knowledge of the world.
Amy was a forward-thinking woman of her time; however, he father sought to confine her to a specific role in life. Amy also derived political ideals from her environment. Amy lived in a time when it was common for most black Jamaicans to be poor, and illiterate farmers. It is due to Europe’s colonization of Africa that many African-born Jamaicans developed a consciousness of Africa at this time. While George Samuel urged Amy to become politically aware, he reinforced the ideals of society. Amy was allowed to take shorthand classes in her later life, but only because he wished for her to become a nurse. Upon graduating school and receiving some of the highest honors of the time, Amy was recruited to work at a law firm. Her father initially said no refusing to allow his daughter to work in an environment with males. George Samuel coincidentally died that year, and the lawyer proceeding over his estate urged Charlotte Henrietta to allow Amy to work in the clerical office so that she could control the estate. Charlotte agreed, and Amy worked there for four years ultimately gaining knowledge of the legal system.
After four years of working for this company Amy left for the United States in 1918. She promised her employer and mother that she would return in three months if conditions in the U.S. were not suitable to her; Amy however, did not return. Amy’s initial interest in the United States started as a child. She allegedly justified her trip to America by arguing that her father instilled this interest in her, and that she only wished to see “the land of opportunity and its limitations”. Adler in his piece chronicling Amy’s life argues that she did not return because she was enthralled by Garveyism. He continues onward to say that she allegedly attended a conference being held by Garvey and was moved by his words. Amy soon after assumed the role of Marcus Garvey’s private secretary and worked alongside him and UNIA.
There were many contradictions in details surrounding their courtship. Many historians are confused about whether or not the two were having an affair. On one hand Marcus Garvey’s first wife, Amy Ashwood, claimed that the two were seeing each other behind her back. She speaks of infidelity and mistrust when describing the pain and humiliation that she felt. On the other hand, Marcus and Amy claim to have had no contact prior to the divorce with his first wife. The two claim to have had a mutual respect for one another but they say that their contact was limited strictly to work and friendly chatter. Ashwood makes the claim that she left Marcus for a period of separation in the summer of 1921, when she allegedly discovered that Amy and Marcus were living together. Amy alleges that any romantic contact that the two had begun strictly after his divorce to Ashwood. Marcus divorced Ashwood while she was abroad in England in June of 1922. He had the divorce approved in Kansas City without her knowledge and a month later on July 27, 1922, Marcus married Amy in Baltimore. Ashwood felt betrayed by her friend and husband. Adler claims that Ashwood and Jacques were best friends. The two were said to have know each other as teens in Jamaica, and Jacques was said to have been Ashwood’s chief bridesmaid in her wedding to Garvey. She attempted to have the second marriage annulled upon returning from by filing a suit to deny the validity of her divorce to Garvey. In this later Amy Jacques Garvey was named the correspondent. The effort to have this divorce nullified failed leaving Amy Jacques as Garvey’s legitimate wife. Unfortunately this whole debacle led to the severance of this long time friendship.
At the beginning of their marriage Amy believed that her responsibility should be that of comfort to her husband. Just several months after marrying Marcus, Amy began editing volume 1 of the Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey (a compilation of Marcus’s writings and speeches). Her initial purpose in editing this journal was to provide a means for the general public to form their own opinion about Marcus Garvey and Garveyism without the stigma provided by bias sources of the time. Amy’s place in both the movement and the organization soon shifted. Instead taking a back seat to her husband and working in the shadow to strengthen his platform, Amy became a face of UNIA and a representation of the females of this organization. In her book Garvey and Garveyism, Amy alleges that a significant amount of Garvey’s speeches were a direct result of her own work; whether it be the crafting of specific lines or the research that went into it. In this book Amy describes how Marcus implored her to read through front page articles and other prominent new sources, and explain their importance to him. After gathering the information he needed he would then use it for his own speeches.
Amy Jacques was said to have been an excellent speaker, having toured the country with and without her husband. After making a return from their western tour, Marcus was scheduled to speak in New York and Amy was not a part of the program. Adler alleges that the audience was so inspired by her previous speeches and published works that when Garvey went up to speak the crowd chanted: “We want Mrs. Garvey!” Even though she was not scheduled to speak at the event she was allowed to because of the mass outcry by the crowd. Marcus Garvey was said to have taken to the podium and say that he was grateful that his wife was his wife and not a rival. Adler believes that Marcus Garvey failed to show any appreciation for his wife despite her growing fame in the public forum. Adler continues on forward to say: “He expected self-sacrificing behavior from his wife and perhaps was threatened by her rival status, rendering him unable to acknowledge her capabilities and accomplishments.” Amy however did not pose an initial threat to Garvey. Given her strong beliefs in her position as his wife, and the structure of the organization, Amy took a back seat, as did other women in the UNIA. UNIA presented itself as an equal-rights organization, but many women complained that they were given unfair positions. The grievances were made public at UNIA’s national convention in 1922. Sexism found a means to thrive even in spite of UNIA’s commitment to sexual equality. This being the case women like Amy Jacques Garvey found a way to become invaluable to the organization.
In light of unforeseen circumstances Amy Jacques Garvey was forced to assume lead role in UNIA. Marcus Garvey was convicted of mail fraud on June 21, 1923; less than a year after marrying Amy Jacques. After being convicted Marcus was sent to Tombs prison in Upstate New York where he spent three months before being released on bond. While in prison, Garvey failed to win his appeals, and as a direct result was sentenced to five years in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary on February 8, 1925. It is at this time that Amy assumed leadership of UNIA. In addition to speaking all over the country to raise money for Marcus’s defense fund, Amy edited and published volume 2 of the Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, two volumes of Marcus’s poetry, The Tragedy of White Injustice, and Selections from the Poetic Meditations of Marcus Garvey. While doing this she worked tirelessly with lawyers to get her husband out of jail, and kept UNIA moving forward by delivering speeches and meeting with the leadership of the group occasionally. Despite the effort that Amy Jacques put forward in keeping Garvey’s dream alive, Adler alleges that Garvey never showed any appreciation toward her. Amy Jacques never assumes official leadership of the organization because Marcus would not allow it.
In November 1963, Amy Jacques Garvey visited Nigeria as a guest of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who was being installed as that nation’s first Governor-General. She published her own book, Garvey and Garveyism in 1963, as well as a booklet, Black Power in America: The Power of the Human Spirit in 1968. Her final work was the Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey volume III, written in conjunction with E.U. Essien-Udom.
Amy Jacques Garvey died on July 25, 1973, in her native Kingston, Jamaica, and was interred in the churchyard of Saint Andrew’s Parish Church.