Behind Every Movement: Throughout Women’s History Month, we will be examining the women behind prominent male historical figures and the essential roles that they played.
Marcus Garvey married twice in his lifetime and although his personal life is marred by a bit of scandal, we thought it was important to highlight both of his wives for their contributions to the movement and Black culture.
Garvey’s first wife, Amy Ashwood Garvey, was born on January 10, 1897, in Port Antonio, Jamaica. According to PBS, she spent some years of her childhood in Panama before moving back to Jamaica where she attended high school and met Garvey at a debating society event. Ashwood would go on to become the secretary of the United Negro Improvement Association. She worked closely with Garvey to plan the movement’s first meeting in Collegiate Hall in Kingston and also played an instrumental role in establishing the Ladies’ auxiliary segment.
It is said that the two became secretly engaged after an extended courtship; however, Ashwood’s family sent her back to Panama as they did not approve of the relationship. In 1918, the two reunited in New York where she worked as the general secretary of the U.N.I.A. It was also during this time when Ashwood risked her life for Garvey by attempting to shield him when he was shot by George Tyler in 1919 at the U.N.I.A. headquarters. The two later married in 1919, but their marriage soon crumbled and Garvey divorced Ashwood in 1922. That same year Garvey married his second wife, Amy Jacques Garvey, who was actually a friend of Ashwood and the maid of honor in her wedding.
Despite their failed marriage, Ashwood continued her career in politics and gained recognition as a cultural feminist, playwright, and entrepreneur.
Garvey’s second wife, Jacques, was born on December 31, 1896, in Jamaica. She relocated to the United States in 1917 and served as Ashwood’s replacement as secretary of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. She also worked as well as secretary of the Negro Factories Corporation, according to PBS.
In 1922, the couple wed. Immediately after, they were met with a major obstacle after Garvey was charged, convicted, and imprisoned for mail fraud. During this time, Jacques stepped up to provide crisis management in order to improve the manner in which Garvey was perceived by the public. She raised money for his defense by publishing two volumes of his speeches and teachings and traveled the country speaking at U.N.I.A. meetings on his behalf. Jacques served as the associate editor of the Negro World between 1924 and 1927. During her tenure, she introduced a column titled “Our Women and What They Think,” through which she profiled Black women leaders.
Following Garvey’s deportation, the couple welcomed two sons—one in 1930 and another in 1933. After Garvey’s death in 1940, Jacques continued her work as a writer. She became the editor of the journal, Africa. She also published Garvey and Garveyism in1963.