Amy Jacques Garvey: Selected Writing from the Negro World, 1923-1928

Edited by Louis J. Parascandola

The University of Tennessee Press | 2016 | 251 pages

Reviewed by Fred Beauford

A Wonderful Mind

Amy J, Garvey, an obscure figure for most Americans, was the second wife of the famous Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. Garvey, an immigrant from Jamaica, “created the most significant black mass movement in history. His organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities (UNIA) was first established in Jamaica in 1914.”

As Parascandola also notes in his introduction, after Garvey came to the United States in 1916, “by the early 1920s, he had created more than 900 branches in some 40 countries with about 6 million members. UNIA was a pro-capitalist, masculine movement that promoted race pride, Pan African unity, economic self-sufficiency, and the redemption of Africa from European imperial power.’”

Amy Jacques Garvey shared this vision with the same passion as her husband. However, soon after they married, Marcus Garvey started freefalling from grace. First, he came under attack from establishment blacks. Some, like the august W.E.B. DuBois, thought that he had little understanding of American blacks, and worse, that he was crude. With little class.

Others, like A. Philip Randolph, loved Marxism with the same, blinding passion that the Garveys loved Capitalism. This is what Amy Garvey wrote in the Negro World, as she and Marcus made a cross-country train trip, stopping at big and small cities where they had branches of their organization:

“A town or city exists on nothing. Its backbone is either the minerals of the earth or the vegetation of the fields. Either manufacturing or farming, and in both cases handling and distribution play an important part. In cases of seaport towns and big railroad centers, distribution of goods of all kinds is an industry in itself, Where are our big thinkers who are laying an industrial foundation to save us from economic starvation? We have none.”

In addition to the black Socialists, who would have none of this, there were the whites that also became alarmed by her husband’s separatist views and his growing influence in black communities nationwide.

Writes Parascandola, “Under fire from all of these groups, particularly after Garvey’s meeting with the Ku Klux Klan in 1922 to discuss matters of racial separation, the movement began to collapse. Garvey came under indictment on charges of mail fraud involving the Black Star Line stock in 1922, was convicted in 1923, imprisoned in 1925, and was eventually deported in 1927. It was during this turbulent time that Amy Jacques Garvey became involved in UNIA and the Negro World,” the weekly newspaper that Marcus Garvey founded in America, in addition to the Black Star Steamship Line, restaurants, laundries, a hotel, a printing press and a doll factory.

Amy Garvey met her husband in 1919 and became his personal secretary. She was born in Kingston, Jamaica, to a middle-class family, was mixed race and well educated at an elite Jamaican school. She moved to New York City in 1917, and, despite her own racially mixed background, quickly came under Garvey’s idea that “God had deliberately created the races differently and intended them to be separated.

She was put in charge of the Woman’s Pages of the Negro World, but what she wrote was not something I would have read in most woman pages in newspapers and magazines across the country during this period, no matter what the color or creed.

First, the entire newspaper was printed in Spanish, English and French, reflecting a worldview. Second, her essays, editorials and occasion short fiction reflected this worldview. You have already read some of her thoughts on the virtue of Capitalism, which showed us an excellent grasp of large-scale production and distribution of goods. In addition, she also had a firm grasp of international issues.

Amy J. Garvey commented on events happening in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East, even predicting that one day the “Yellowman,” as it were, will one day rule the earth.

She also kept a sharp eye on Gandhi and applauded his efforts to end the practice of the English strategy of Divide and Conquer by telling Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jainists, Buddhists, Zoroastrians and pockets of Christians and Jews, that in the end, they were all Indians and that the English should go back to where they came from.

Amy Garvey was also a strong feminist. Here is a excerpt from one of her essays on the subject: “There is nothing more significant in the life of mankind than the gradual emancipation of woman from her dependence upon man and the giving to her a decisive voice in her relations to man in the family.”   

She goes on in the same article to praise Mustapha Kemal, who had just liberated Turkey from centuries of rule by Islamic Sultans, “for a more honorable place for woman.” As for America, she predicted that in a “few decades I would not be surprised to see a woman President.”  

This obviously didn’t happen, as well as quite a few of her other predictions. Nevertheless, this was a person with an excellent mind who didn’t mine using it. Editor Parascandola noted that although she was a prolific writer and original thinker, she has been grossly overlooked by history.

Most of the reason, he writes, is because “she often deflected attention from herself to her husband,” Marcus Garvey.

Hopefully, this historic book will finally give her, her due.

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