Amy Ashwood Garvey

This article is about the Jamaican-born political activist and Marcus Garvey's first wife. For Marcus Garvey's second wife, see Amy Jacques Garvey.
Amy Ashwood Garvey
Born Amy Ashwood
(1897-01-10)10 January 1897
Port Antonio, Jamaica
Died 3 May 1969(1969-05-03) (aged 72)
Kingston, Jamaica
Known for Activism, black nationalism, Pan-Africanism
Spouse(s) Marcus Garvey (1919–22; divorced)

Amy Ashwood Garvey (10 January 1897 – 3 May 1969) was a Jamaican Pan-Africanist activist, director of the Black Star Line Steamship Corporation, and founded the Negro World newspaper. She was married to Marcus Garvey between 1919 and 1922.

Early years

Amy Ashwood was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica, on 10 January 1897,[1] the only daughter of the three children of businessman Michael Delbert Ashwood and his wife, Maudriana Thompson.[2] As a child, Amy was told by her grandmother that she was of Ashanti descent.[3] Taken to Panama as an infant, she returned in 1904 to Jamaica, and attended the Westwood High School for Girls in Trelawny,[2] where she met Marcus Garvey,[4][5] with whom she founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1914. She organised a women's section of the UNIA, and in 1918, she moved to the United States, where she worked as Garvey's aide and as Secretary of the UNIA's New York City branch.[6]

Marriage to Marcus Garvey

She and Marcus Garvey married on 25 December 1919, but the marriage quickly broke down, ending in divorce in 1922. There followed lawsuits and counter suits for annulment, divorce, alimony and bigamy. Garvey divorced Ashwood in Missouri in 1922 and quickly married Amy Jacques, Ashwood's former roommate and maid of honor. Marcus Garvey accused Ashwood of infidelity, theft, alcoholism and laziness. Amy Ashwood reportedly never accepted the divorce and contended to the end of her days that she was the "real" Mrs. Garvey.[7]

Move to London

Ashwood became a director of the Black Star Line Steamship Corporation, and founded the Negro World newspaper.[2][6] She moved to Great Britain, where she struck up a friendship with Ladipo Solanke. Together, they founded the Nigerian Progress Union, and she later supported Solanke's West African Students' Union,[5] but in 1924 she returned to New York, where she produced comedies with her companion, Sam Manning, a Trinidadian calypso singer who was one of the world's pioneering black recording artists. Among the productions was Brown Sugar, a jazz musical production at the Lafayette Theater, which featured Manning and Fats Waller and his band.[8]

1934–44: London and New York

In 1934, she returned to London, and with Manning, opened the Florence Mills Social Club a jazz club on Carnaby Street which became a gathering spot for supporters of Pan-Africanism.[6] She helped to establish the International African Friends of Abyssinia with C.L.R. James, the International African Service Bureau with figures like George Padmore, Chris Braithwaite and Jomo Kenyatta, and the London Afro-Women's Centre. She spent some time in 1939 in New York, then went to Jamaica, where she and other prominent people formed the short-lived J. A. G. Smith Political Party.[2][9] In 1944, she again returned to New York, where she joined the West Indies National Council and the Council on African Affairs, and also campaigned for Adam Clayton Powell Jr.[2]

5th Pan-African Congress, 1945, and later years

She chaired the first session of the 5th Pan-African Congress in Manchester in 1945. In 1946, Ashwood moved to Liberia for three years, where she began a relationship with the country's president, William Tubman. Whist there she researched the conditions for women in Nigeria and she gave talks to women's groups there.[2] She then returned to London, helping to set up the "Afro Peoples Centre" in Ladbroke Grove in 1953. She was a friend of Claudia Jones, and was on the editorial board of the Brixton-based West Indian Gazette, founded by Jones in 1958.[10] In the wake of the Notting Hill riots in 1958, she co-founded the Association for the Advancement of Coloured People.[11][12] In 1959, she chaired an enquiry into race relations following the murder of Kelso Cochrane in London.[6]

Her stay in Dwaben, Ashanti, Ghana 1946 and tour of other African countries

According to Mrs. Garvey, her grandmother told her that she descended from Dwaben(pronounced: 'Juaben') and that her grandmother(called "Granny Dabas") was in fact a captive from Juaben. Granny Dabas' name was Boahemaa. In 1924 she met J.B. Danquah in London and told him her grandmother's story and Danquah confirmed to her that Dwaben is in fact an Asante city-state. 15 years later she also met another Ghanaian Barrister Kwabena Kese. In 1946, Barrister Kese took Mrs. Garvey to Juaben leading to the verification of her Granny Dabas' account and would later adopt the name Akosua Boahemaa. She would also meet Osei Tutu Agyeman Prempeh II.[13] The Asante people are commonly known to Jamaicans as the freedom fighters that fought against slavery and oppression. The national heroine Nanny of the Maroons is also an Asante queen. Many Jamaicans even non-maroons can also make accounts of having family of Asante descent.

She returned to Liberia in 1960, but was back in London four years later, and spent the next three years mostly in Jamaica and Trinidad. In 1967–68 she toured the United States.[2]

With failing health, she returned to Jamaica in 1968, and died in Kingston on 3 May the following year, aged 72.[2][9][14] She was buried on Sunday, 11 May 1969, in Kingston's Calvary cemetery.[2]


  1. Estimates of her birthdate have also included 18 January 1897 and 28 January 1897, which may result from birth registration and baptismal records.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Tony Martin, "Garvey, Amy Ashwood (1895/1897–1969)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2006. Accessed 22 July 2015.
  3. Comparative studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Vols 17-18, Duke University Press, 1997, p. 124.
  4. Nydia Swaby, "Amy Ashwood Garvey: A Revolutionary Pan-African Feminist" Archived 18 February 2011 at the Wayback Machine.. Re/Visionist, 1 April 2010.
  5. 1 2 Hakim Adi, West Africans in Britain: 1900-1960: Nationalism, Pan-Africanism and Communism (ISBN 0853158487/0-85315-848-7).
  6. 1 2 3 4 Black History in Westminster, City of Westminster, October 2006.
  7. "Political Biography on Amy Ashwood Garvey: Pan-Africanist, Feminist", Pan African News, 21 May 2007.
  8. Eugene Chadbourne, Artist Biography at
  9. 1 2 "Amy Ashwood Garvey", All Woman – Jamaica Observer, 1 January 2007.
  10. Carole Boyce Davies, Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones, Duke University Press, 2008, p. 229.
  11. British Library Americas Studies blog entry for Amy Ashwood Garvey
  12. Espiritu, Allison, "Garvey, Amy Ashwood (1897-1969)", Black
  14. Though some sources cite 11 May 1969 as her date of death, according to her biographer Tony Martin that was the date of her funeral.


Further reading

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