Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Marcus Garvey's love life

Published:Sunday | August 17, 2014 | 8:00 AM
Carolyn Cooper

Amy Jacques, the second Mrs Garvey, gives an intriguing account of Marcus Garvey's first marriage to Amy Ashwood in her book Garvey and Garveyism. "While [Garvey was] in Harlem hospital, Amy Ashwood, a Jamaican friend from Panama, then secretary of the New York local, removed his belongings from his furnished room to her flat. At the end of December, they were married."

Quite a lot is left out of this abbreviated story. There is a big gap between the moving of the belongings and the marriage. What is not said is just as important as what is. It seems as if Amy Jacques is accusing Amy Ashwood of using underhand means to forcefully rush Garvey into marriage while he was in a vulnerable state.

Amy Jacques' description of the divorce is quite elaborate, by contrast. She even recalls, word for word, Garvey's explanation of why the marriage broke down after only three months: "I have to travel up and down the country. I can't drag my wife with me. I can't pay her the personal attention as the average husband. In fact, I have no time to look after myself. My life can either be wrecked because of her conduct, or embellished by her deportment."

A WORKING HONEYMOON

Garvey's next move seems quite calculated. Amy Jacques reports that "He moved into a flat at 129th Street with an elderly coloured member as housekeeper. He offered Miss Davis [assistant president general] and I a room to share there; we accepted because we would be better protected at nights coming home from meetings."

Prim and proper Miss Jacques is careful to confirm the elderliness of Garvey's housekeeper. And her acceptance of Garvey's hospitality is purely a matter of chivalrous protection. But I do wonder. Did Amy Jacques have 'feelings' for Garvey? In her judgemental account of the collapsed marriage, Amy Jacques does not immediately mention the fact that Amy Ashwood was her friend. Nor does she reveal that she was a bridesmaid at the wedding and accompanied the couple on their honeymoon!

It was a working honeymoon and Amy Jacques attended in a professional capacity as Garvey's secretary. There's only one kind of work that should be done on a honeymoon. And if you can't do the work, you are going to lose the work.

As is to be expected, Amy Ashwood gives a quite different version of the story of her marriage. Her needs and Marcus Garvey's ambitions clearly clashed. Embellishing her husband's life was not her priority. She was a woman ahead of her time, who could not be contained by her husband's expectations.

Amy Ashwood was, apparently, a hot-blooded woman who needed a partner who could and would pay her sexual attention. Garvey should have taken her on a proper honeymoon. However much he admired Amy Ashwood's mind, spirit and, presumably, body, Garvey soon concluded that his wife was going to wreck his life. His peace of mind required defensive action.

THE PERFECT SECOND WIFE

Garvey admitted that his visionary work for the advancement of black people "came first in his life". This was his big romance. And in Amy Jacques he found a perfect second wife. She was a devoted, morally upright companion who certainly did not cause any anxiety in Garvey about what she might possibly be doing behind his back while he was travelling up and down the country.

Garvey's second wife decidedly embellished his life. But even she had cause to complain about Garvey's commitment to his first love, The UNIA. In Garvey and Garveyism, Amy Jacques paints a picture of Garvey as a taskmaster, pushing her relentlessly to publish the second volume of his philosophy and opinions.

This is how she puts it: "I thought I had done almost the impossible when I was able to rush a first copy of Volume II to him, but he callously said, 'Now I want you to send free copies to senators, congressmen and prominent men who might become interested in my case, as I want to make another application for a pardon.'"

Amy Jacques confesses: "When I completed this task, I weighed 98lb, had low blood pressure, and one eye was badly strained. Two doctors advised complete rest." Having sacrificed her health for Garvey's cause, she fleetingly rebels against the callous regime of domestic servitude she had willingly embraced.

THE MORAL OF THE STORY

Perhaps, Amy Jacques should have followed Amy Ashwood's example and made a lucky escape. But who would have ensured the completion of The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey and so consolidated the great man's reputation?

The moral of this love story is quite complicated: Great men often need self-sacrificing wives. Great women don't usually need self-sacrificing husbands. Self-sacrificing wives who have the potential to be great women have to abandon callous great men; or they will end up getting seriously sick.

The wives of great men who refuse to embellish their husband's life end up divorced, with a very bad reputation. Divorced women sometimes end up living glamorous lives as great women in their own right - like Amy Ashwood! Great and not-so-great men who do not require their wives to be self-sacrificing are few and far between. They make great husbands for great and not-so-great women.

Carolyn Cooper is a teacher of English language and literature. Visit her bilingual blog at http://carolynjoycooper.wordpress.com. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.