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Tony Martin tells Amy Ashwood Garvey's story
published: Tuesday | May 8, 2007

Amy Ashwood Garvey's story - Contributed

Mel Cooke, Freelance Writer

For Dr. Tony Martin, lecturer at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, Liberty Hall at 76 King Street, Kingston, is the perfect place to present Amy Ashwood Garvey, Pan-Africanist, Feminist and Mrs. Marcus Garvey No. 1, Or, A Tale of Two Amies to the public.

It is not only that the Liberty Halls worldwide were at the heart of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), founded by Marcus Garvey, but this particular location was at the centre of a coup of sorts by his first wife, Amy Ashwood Garvey.

And it is there that Martin will present her story tomorrow, at 6:00 p.m., three days before the 38th anniversary of her death.

"She had a sort of coup in the UNIA," Martin said of Amy Ashwood Garvey. This was when she was in Jamaica between 1939 and 1944, a period when Mrs. Marcus Garvey No. 2, Amy Jacques Garvey, was also in Jamaica."

Branches of the UNIA

Marcus Mosiah Garvey, in his newspaper 'The Black Man', recorded the struggle of the unemployed before the 1938 Labour riots. - contributed

"There were two functioning branches of the UNIA. One would meet at Liberty Hall, while the other would meet at Eloweis Park," Martin said. The former was loyal to Amy Jacques and the latter to Amy Ashwood, but at one point Amy Ashwood "engineered a coup and took over Liberty Hall. She began calling herself president-general of the UNIA".

It could not have helped that Amy Jacques had been maid of honour at the wedding of Marcus Garvey and Amy Ashwood Garvey in 1919.

Amy Ashwood Garvey, Pan-Africanist, Feminist and Mrs. Marcus Garvey No. 1, Or, A Tale of Two Amies is the latest addition to what Martin calls the New Marcus Garvey Library. He published the first book in the ongoing series, Race First, in 1976, coming out of his Ph.D. dissertation in 1973. At 27 years in the making, Martin says "this is by far the longest I have spent on any book."

His most important source was Amy Ashwood Garvey's papers, consisting of letters, scripts and photographs. Martin points out that she wrote many manuscripts, none of which was published. The papers were in a number of locations, Martin accessing them from her friends Lionel Yard and Ivy Constable Richards, the National Library of Jamaica, in London and in Chicago from the former head of the UNIA, the Hon. Charles L. Jones.

The result of the research and honing of the text is "a mixed portrait ... I think she made her mistakes. As a biographer, I wanted to be true to the record. I found myself in some places having to walk a tightrope."

Martin pointed out that Amy Ashwood Garvey only lived with her husband for two to three months and "Garvey accused her of infidelity. My research suggests that this is the case. I couldn't leave it out of the book, but I didn't want her to look bad." Garvey also accused her of stealing and Martin says "it seemed she really did appropriate some money. I had to mention it, but pulled my punches."

"There are some positives. She was an important Pan-Africanist in her own right. In 1924, in London, she started an important organisation," Martin said. That was the Nigerian Progress Union, later to become the West African Students Union (WASU). "WASU is one of the most important organisations in the history of Pan-Africanism," Martin said, pointing out that Kwame Nkrumah was once president.

"In 1946, she was able to trace her ancestry back to Asante in Ghana, similar to Alex Haley in Roots. The similarities to Haley are so great that if she had done it after Haley, I would have thought she plagiarised him," Martin said.

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