On April 21 1917 Amy Jacques boarded the SS Carrilo in Kingston Harbor and set sail for New York City. The ticket cost at least $65, but the expense was not a major issue for her: at the age of twenty-one she had inherited money from her father’s estate and had saved her earnings from her secretarial job over the previous four years. For years Ellis Island had been a symbol of opportunity, but the Immigration Act of 1917, the first in a series that favored national groups thought to be more “assimilable,” had already stifled the hopes of many newcomers. Everyone over age sixteen had to pass a literacy test, and all had to undergo a stringent and too-often humiliating medical examination to determine if they had a contagious disease. But Jacques met both requirements and was subsequently released to Mrs. Lilly Francis, who was posing as her sister. Francis gave officials her name and address and agreed to assume full financial responsibility for Jacques.
Though Jacques makes no reference to an involvement in any social or political organization prior to the UNIA, she undoubtedly had access to a number of associations that would remind her of home. Though it is tempting to speculate about Jacques’s activities between the day she checked out of Ellis Island and the day she entered the UNIA, the fact is that she elected to keep her personal memories to herself. What is verifiable is that she was drawn to the UNIA when it was already a formidable organization. Jacques claims that she had heard conflicting reports about the organization and that its purpose was unclear. Nor did she understand what Marcus Garvey, whom she had first met in Jamaica in 1913, intended to do. Out of curiosity, she went one Sunday night in the summer of 1919 to the newly purchased Liberty Hall, a “low-roofed, hot, zinc-covered” former Baptist church that held six thousand people, at 138th Street in Harlem where the meetings took place. After the session she approached Garvey to congratulate him on his inspiring talk and ask him about the many issues he had failed to explore. She told him that not only did she want to be convinced that he was correct, but also to have the opportunity to argue her convictions. His answers, however, generated more questions, so they agreed to meet at his office, where they would have more time to converse. At the office, he showed her around and asked her opinion of it. She frankly told him that he needed a daily reporting system so that he would be able to track the UNIA activities and calculate the amount of money they generated. Garvey was impressed with her suggestions and after much pleading on his part, she accepted a secretarial position.
Garvey appealed for elite support, may have also caught Jacques’s eye. Garvey believed that “the intelligent must lead and assist the unfortunate of the people to rise.” But most middle- and upper-class colored and “brown” Jamaicans were not interested in an organization that embraced and celebrated a black identity. The UNIA appealed to dark skinned middle-class Jamaicans at a time when other comparable associations denied them membership. Garvey had settled in New York in March 1916, and Amy Ashwood, co-founder of the UNIA, reports that by the time he left the island, many individuals had visited the debates and enjoyed the musical performances, but only about one hundred people had become active member. Garvey was swimming in debt, and his contributors were clamoring for an accounting of the organization’s funds. In New York, however, the UNIA began a new course when Garvey became one of Harlem’s most exciting step-ladder orators. His commanding voice could be heard several blocks away. More important, though, was his message, which struck a chord with disgruntled Harlemites who had been disappointed in black leadership.
The Other Woman…then his Wife
All of this activity left Ashwood feeling overwhelmed by her UNIA duties. On top of that, in November 1919 she and Garvey began planning an elaborate wedding for Christmas Day. In need of a personal assistant, Ashwood believed that she had now spent enough time with Jacques to know that she had good secretarial skills, so she offered her the position. Ashwood claims that she considered Jacques a good friend and anticipated that after the wedding she would be able to take over Ashwood’s own role as one of the UNIA associate secretaries. According to Ashwood’s biographer, at this point Amy Jacques was not knowledgeable about “the African past,” nor was she a Garveyite, “but she was keen enough to sense the economic importance of the organization and the important segment of the power structure occupied” by Ashwood. Jacques was attractive and intelligent, he continued, “but [had] never had the opportunity to gain much recognition nor to wield the power which she saw with amazement was in the position for which Amy [Ashwood] was grooming her.”
There is something persuasive in the idea that Jacques entered the organization in a position of influence. Being a secretary for the headquarters would have been a comfortable role for her, giving her an opportunity to express a range of talents that were in keeping with her middle-class training. Further, the post would not challenge the class structure of her Caribbean upbringing, since she did not have to fraternize with the working-class rank-and-file membership. Instead, her secretarial duties gave her access to the privileged leadership, replicating, to a degree, the people with whom she expected to associate. And, since the New York branch of the UNIA had many West Indian members, Jacques might have initially believed that she was joining a basically West Indian nationalist organization, as opposed to a Pan-African movement. Jacques denied that she and Ashwood were acquaintances in Jamaica, and she gave the impression that Ashwood had no influence over her decision to attend a UNIA meeting. Jacques refused to acknowledge any prior friendship with her future foe, more than three thousand people witnessed her standing by Ashwood as the maid of honor at her wedding to Marcus Garvey on the evening of December 25, 1919 at Liberty Hall. The Garveys’ two-week honeymoon was not traditional in that they shared this intimate occasion with UNIA friends, including Jacques. The newlyweds’ trip to Canada had a dual purpose: to celebrate the beginning of their life as husband and wife and to negotiate UNIA business in Montreal and Toronto. By January 1920 the UNIA had emerged as one of the largest black organizations in the United States, and its considerable international membership further distinguished it from others. Between June and December 1919 there were at least twenty-six race riots in urban cities. A life-affirming racial consciousness had taken hold, which in turn stimulated an optimal climate for a Pan-African movement. Garvey responded by shifting the UNIA ideology to include the “development of Independent Negro Nations and Communities.”[note] He was the president-general of the organization, but his new wife was a good fund-raiser and also in demand. Their Canada trip was essentially a working honeymoon, and Amy Jacques was one of several traveling secretaries who accompanied them.
The Garveys experienced only a few months of marital bliss. Ashwood writes: “In the full glare of the limelight the Marcus Garvey I knew receded into the shadows. The public figure Garvey took his place, and we found we were unable to continue the old partnership.” Certainly Garvey would not have been the first man to change under the pressure of leadership. It seems, though, that what happened was not so much a transformation of the man as a transformation of his expectations of Ashwood. It was one thing to be Garvey’s cofounder and fiancée, but it was another to be his wife. He demanded that Ashwood function in a way that she had never done before their marriage—to subdue her public persona and support him in all of his undertakings, questioning neither his political nor his business decisions. Jacques recalls him saying that he “must have her [Ashwood’s] sympathy and understanding of every action of mine.”
Although Garvey was critical of his father’s maltreatment of his mother, he believed that women should be self-sacrificing and supportive, a standard he set for his own spouse and all UNIA wives. In fact, gender-specific roles have had a long history in black intellectual traditions. Paul Gilroy has pointed out that Martin Delany was the first black intellectual to argue that masculine power was fundamental to nationalist doctrine and that women were to be educated exclusively for motherhood. The idea that a “supreme patriarch” was needed for the “integrity of the race” has since become something of a mantra for black nationalist thought. For his part, Garvey argued that his male-centered nation benefited women because it allowed them the opportunity to develop their God-given talents: making the home a haven of comfort and nurturing children, the future generation. Amy Ashwood represented a new generation of black women and it was against her nature to submit totally. She had a mind of her own and refused to accommodate Garvey’s every need. Ashwood was a free spirit, and her lifestyle resembled that of a few other women in America who were experiencing a taste of liberation during the Roaring Twenties. This wife frequently consumed alcohol in public and apparently never terminated her close friendships with other men.[note]
Because Garvey could not control his wife, he soon concluded that her behavior was detrimental to the UNIA. By March 1920 he had separated from her. According to Jacques, Garvey met with her and Henrietta Vinton Davis to explain the situation; “he said he wanted us to know before the reporters had it their own way. He had decided to separate from his wife and get a divorce afterwards.” He told them that his “life can either be wrecked because of her [Ashwood’s] conduct, or embellished by her deportment.” When he left Ashwood’s apartment and relocated to a flat on 129th Street, he wanted to keep both women near him. Davis had been elected international organizer of the UNIA in 1919, and Garvey trusted her immensely. Born in 1860, she was a dramatist who had toured the Caribbean islands in 1912 and 1913. Davis was well acquainted with global events and had a history of progressive activism. A loyal colleague, a good organizer, and a captivating speaker, she was well respected by the general membership.
Jacques, on the other hand, was one of many secretaries. Her starting salary of twenty-three dollars a week eventually increased to forty dollars but was still less than half that of Gwendolyn Campbell, who was in charge of the stenographic force at UNIA headquarters. Her physical presence, however, may have reminded Garvey of the women who had shunned him at home because of his dark color and his poverty. Jacques was slight in stature—only five feet two inches tall and no pounds—and her mixed racial heritage was evident in her appearance. In his desire to foster racial consciousness, he welcomed anyone to the UNIA with “one-sixteenth or more black blood provided they work for the unity of the race.” But he remained openly skeptical of mixed-race people, particularly men, and wanted to “save the Negro race from extinction through miscegenation.” Garvey believed that mulattoes were untrustworthy because their allegiance to the black race was precarious. So Jacques’s heritage represented the colored privilege that repulsed him; yet he was clearly enamored of her and viewed his own attraction as somehow different from that of other “darker men” whom he indicted for their desire to marry the “lightest colored woman for special privilege and honor.” Not only was Jacques beautiful, but she was intelligent as well—and Garvey was obviously attracted to smart women who were committed to his nationalist vision. Garvey immediately “offered Miss Davis and I [Jacques] a room to share there [the flat on 133 West 129th Street]; we accepted.”
Whatever the state of Ashwood and Jacques’s relationship, Ashwood and Garvey were far beyond reconciling their differences, and on July 15, 1920 he filed for an annulment of their marriage in the New York County Circuit Court. In addition to being the general secretary for the New York division of the UNIA, Amy Ashwood was one of the directors of the Black Star Steamship Line Company, and Garvey accused her of misappropriating the organization’s funds to buy a house in Harlem. He vowed to “exercise every possible precaution to determine if one penny of the Association’s funds had been expended for the purchase” of her personal property. Garvey also claimed that Ashwood had been an adulteress. Along with the Sam Manning incident, Garvey charged that she had consorted with a UNIA member, “a fashion plate in the employ of the Black Star Line.” Finally, he identified her former Panamanian beau, Allan Cumberbatch, as another man with whom she had continued to correspond after their marriage.
Ashwood responded to Garvey’s legal charges by accusing him in an affidavit, dated 30 August 1920, of consorting with other women, one of whom was her presumed good friend, Amy Jacques. Ashwood had heard gossip that her husband and Jacques were becoming more than business associates. In a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) report, filed on August 31, 1920, Special Agent F. B. Faulhaber stated that a Mr. Green, an employee of the Black Star Line, had been “informed by Mrs. Garvey” that she had information “on some of the trips made from Philadelphia. Garvey had left the country with Jacques, the FBI was attempting to charge him under the 1910 White Slave Traffic Act, also known as the Mann Act. This statute made it a federal crime to “transport or aid or assist in obtaining transportation in interstate or foreign commerce any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose, or with the intent and purpose to induce, entice, or compel such woman or girl to become a prostitute.” The Mann Act, one of the first “federal crimes” laws, was aggressively enforced by the nation’s police—the FBI. By 1912 the charges made under the act were so numerous that the attorney general established the Office of the Special Commissioner for the Suppression of White Slave Traffic.
White slave officers became the custodians of American morality in a campaign to protect innocent, friendless young immigrant women and girls who were in danger of being trapped in a life of ill repute by their slavers. The law primarily aimed to jail incorrigible men, but women were also arrested “to induce them to testify against their male transporters.” Marlene Beckman notes that the name “White Slave Traffic Act” is a misnomer, because “the Act makes no distinction as to the race or the color of the female whose transportation is a violation of the law.” Beckman’s study of 150 women who were convicted under the statute between 1927 and 1932, however, documents that 96 percent of the incarcerated women were white.
It was customary in Mann Act cases to obtain a statement from the victim; thus, Agent Bremmann awaited advice as to whether he should proceed with “interviewing Amy Jacques.” In the end, government officials decided not to pursue this avenue not only because Jacques was not a “whore,” but also because they sensed that a legal charge of immoral impropriety against a UNIA woman could be catastrophic to their case against Garvey. Garveyites preached that their nation could rise no higher than their women, and an unsubstantiated attack against this foundation would be aggressively countered. In addition, since the 1890S black club women had organized and defended their womanhood against accusations that defamed their reputation. Conscientious African Americans, even those who opposed Garvey, were united in their belief that the protection of black women (which often translated into paternalistic privileges) was paramount to the moral uplifting of the race. The FBI wanted Garvey without the burden of battling black America on these grounds, so it continued to monitor him but changed its witch-hunt strategy.
By 1921 a cohort of black leaders—W. E. B. Du Bois, Cyril Briggs, Chandler Owen, and William Pickens—had grown critical of his approach and his unwillingness to cooperate with other black groups. They attacked Garvey on many fronts, and on one occasion his relationships with Jacques and Ashwood became fair game. Cyril Briggs, leader of the African Blood Brotherhood, a socialist organization, was careful not to name or malign these women with degrading details, but he did question Garvey’s morality. As editor of the Crusader, Briggs favorably compared himself to Garvey, stating, “The editor of the Crusader has never left his wife, nor turned his wife out. The editor of the Crusader is not now living with a woman not his wife and never has so lived.” At last, on June 15, 1922, Garvey was able to remove his personal life from the glare of public scrutiny when he received his divorce decree. In his court testimony, he had convinced the judge and jury that Ashwood had been deceitful, offering a detailed description of how he had found her sitting by a man in a parlor. The court found that “the allegations in Plaintiff’s [Marcus Garvey’s] petition are true; that plaintiff is injured and [an] innocent party and entitled to the relief prayed.” Rumors had circulated among the officers of the UNIA that Jacques and Garvey would marry, and they did, two months after his divorce became final.
“He must have someone who had the right to be his personal representative— to act on his behalf, and on his instructions,” especially since the FBI was trailing him. A “secretary,” she claimed, “would only be brushed aside as an employee, and dismissed too. He must get a wife.” Garvey wanted an African American “so as to please the people. The duty of sharing his turbulent life might have been requested of Miss Davis [,]” but she was “older than he, and he had hopes of having a son to carry on his name.” Although there were “other eligible among the membership,” they “lacked the sum total qualities of what he wanted for a wife now—a stand-in, in an emergency.” Since he respected and valued her contributions to the UNIA, “he turned to me, and very adroitly put the onus on me, stating that it was in my power to help the organization in this crisis. He had already obtained a divorce, so we were married 27 July 1922.”
Although on the surface the UNIA—a race-first, Pan-African movement— seems to have been far removed from what Jacques was accustomed to, so was the situation of racial prejudice she found herself in. As a young woman who represented the epitome of “good Jamaican birth,” she must have been shocked not only by white Americans’ perception of all “Negroid” people as an undifferentiated mass—regardless of their shade of color or financial status—but also by their unwarranted hostility toward black people, which often translated into broad racial discrimination and terrorist attacks. In the first two years of her new life in the United States (1917-19), Amy Jacques was exposed to the virulent racism that accompanied the great migration of black people from the South to the North, the rise of white supremacist organizations, and the advent of race riots. Her activities and ultimate membership in the UNIA indicate that she had by then relinquished some of her culturally colored attitudes and embraced her “blackness” in a new way. Her metamorphosis illuminates how Garvey’s program successfully worked to unite African people from the continent and the diaspora. He collapsed class, color, religious, and geographic distinctions and then encouraged black people to view themselves as part of a Pan-African family, united for the common good and against their European oppressors. By 1922 Jacques’s youthful narcissistic thinking was a mere memory; already a confident person, she had become emboldened enough to answer the call to become socially responsible to her race.[note] She was no longer a “brown” Jamaican but a black woman committed to the UNIA agenda and willing to sacrifice herself for its success.
A member of the Harlem chapter, Audley (Queen Mother) Moore, remembered that “when Marcus Garvey came on the scene, then of course a deep consciousness was awakened in me…. [H]e raised in me a certain knowledge of me belonging to people all over the world, the African people, and he gave me pride, and he gave me a great knowledge of the history of the wealth of Africa.”
Garvey’s Agenda and the Push-back from the Women Delagates
The black masses worldwide had responded to the UNIA’S platform: to generate global economic connections between Africans living in the Caribbean, North America, and Africa via its passenger and shipping fleet (the Black Star Line); to redeem Africa from European colonists; and ultimately to link a diasporic identity with a legal African nationality. By 1923 the UNIA itself resembled a nation. Garveyites elected ambassadors, sponsored expeditions to Liberia, sent commissioners to the League of Nations, and endorsed political candidates. Elaborate pageantry also gave the appearance of nationhood. Members sang a national hymn and wore flamboyant uniforms, and their red, black, and green flag—the ultimate emblem of an independent nation.
As the organization grew, so did the public role of Amy Jacques Garvey. Jacques Garvey was still working behind the scenes, never once sharing the limelight with her husband. Yet the issues raised at this meeting provide a sense of the concerns that were escalating when Jacques became Garvey’s wife.
Marcus Garvey’s agenda dominated the 1922 convention. Highly concerned about dissension within the ranks, he was determined to stifle all opinions that disagreed with his own. He condemned members who fraternized with his enemies, among them W. E. B. Du Bois, A. Philip Randolph, Chandler Owen, and William Pickens. These men had been unable, and in some cases unwilling, to organize the masses, and they refused to give Garvey credit for his intellectual prowess and his herculean effort to create a program that captured the imagination of black people. They considered him to be a charlatan and a demagogue, preying “upon the ignorant, unsuspecting poor West Indian working men and women,” taking their hard-earned monies for his egregious capitalist schemes. Garvey responded to these accusations both before and during the convention by challenging these noted leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to make their own records public and account for the money they had spent over the previous ten years. Feeling the need to eliminate those members who were fraternizing with NAACP luminaries, Garvey argued that the UNIA would have to “clean” itself from within in order to fight those from “without.” Thus, his primary agenda was to restructure the UNIA so he could personally appoint members of the Executive Cabinet, instead of their being nominated by the membership, to ensure their loyalty to him.
Garvey managed to convince the general body to amend the UNIA constitution for this purpose, but on 31 August his dominance was unexpectedly challenged by another group: the lady delegates “by some clever maneuvering were able to monopolize” this session. This move surprised the men, because “Woman’s Day at Liberty Hall” had already been observed ten days earlier. They articulated the need for a policy to ensure that children were reared to be honest and that there was no double standard of morality. Good manners and decent morals were essential to respectability, and, as Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham has noted, during this period black Baptist women “perceived respectability to be the first step in their communication with white America.” For their part, UNIA women considered respectability to be a key step toward establishing a sovereign black nation. Female delegates further wanted to establish a place where men and women could learn their “social duties and obligations” to one another. This environment would guarantee that the “men of the race would stick to them” and not seek relationships with white women.
Amy Ashwood must be credited with helping to develop a system in which women could enjoy equal participation. Each local division elected a male and female president and vice president. The constitution did not guarantee equal participation, however, as a majority of women delegates at the 31 August meeting pointed out. They elected Mrs. Victoria W. Turner of St. Louis as their spokesperson, and she submitted a five-point resolution to be adopted by the organization. These delegates demanded that women be placed in “important” positions within “the organization to help refine and mold public sentiment.” They wanted absolute control over the UNIA auxiliaries, the Black Cross Nurses (women who performed duties similar to Red Cross nurses), and Motor Corps (car fleets), as well as more recognition on committees. Overall, they insisted on empowerment “so that the Negro women all over the world can function without restriction from men.”
Men and women were advised to wield proper influence and authority over separate spheres: public and familiar. Women were charged to make the home a haven, nurture children, and support their husbands; men, in turn, were to be providers and protectors. Garveyites believed that when men and women fulfilled these designated gender-specific roles, they replicated the lifestyle of other “successful” and powerful people the world over. Some women delegates flatly rejected being confined to the domestic sphere and struggled to enhance their womanhood and ultimately their nation by augmenting their duties in the Pan-African struggle. They were not satisfied by performing charitable duties and reinforcing male leadership; they wanted to be eligible for election to a variety of executive positions to which they felt “entitled,” despite Garvey’s claim that women should not be considered for “diplomatic missions.” Garvey’s initial response to the women’s resolution was that he did not see any reason for change, “as the women already had the power they were asking for under the constitution…. The U.N.I.A. was one organization that recognized women.” Henrietta Vinton Davis was on the Executive Council, he pointed out, and “if there was any difference made in the local divisions, it was not the fault of the policy of the UNIA, but it was the fault of individuals.” The women delegates, however, were passionate enough about their position to override class, geography, and other distinctions among themselves and unite against Garvey in a way that UNIA men were unable to replicate. In the end, their resolutions were modified and adopted by the convention. The women had thus forced Garvey to concede on some level, they helped to redefine the appropriate roles for women in the association. Although Garvey did not oppose the idea of female leadership, he was somewhat contemptuous of these delegates’ desire to expand their functions as Pan-Africanists.
For her part, Jacques Garvey kept a low profile at the convention, but the period after that proved a turning point for her UNIA activism.
Part II will be posted in the upcoming weeks.
Books of Interest Courtesy of Keisha N. Blain
*Adi, Hakim. “Amy Ashwood Garvey and the Nigerian Progress Union” in Gendering the African Diaspora: Women, Culture and Historical Change in the Caribbean and Nigerian Hinterland, eds. Judith Byfield, LaRay Denzer, and Anthea Morrison (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010).
*Blain, Keisha N. “‘Confraternity Among All Dark Races’: Mittie Maude Lena Gordon and the Practice of Black (Inter)nationalism in Chicago, 1932-1942,” Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International (forthcoming, Spring 2016).
*Blain, Keisha N. “‘We Want to Set the World on Fire’: Black Nationalist Women and Diasporic Politics in the New Negro World, 1940–1944,” Journal of Social History, Vol. 49, No. 1 (Fall 2015): 194-212.
*Castillo-Garsow, Melissa. “Afro-Latin@ Nueva York: Maymie de Mena and the Unsung Afro-Latina Leadership of the UNIA,” in Afro-Latinos in Movement: Critical Approaches to Blackness and Transnationalism in the Americas, eds. Petra R. Rivera-Rideau, Jennifer A. Jones, and Tianna S. Paschel (forthcoming, Palgrave Macmillan Press).
*Duncan, Natanya. “If Our Men Hesitate Then the Women of the Race Must Come Forward: Henrietta Vinton Davis and the UNIA in New York,” New York History, Vol. 94, No. 1 (Fall 2015): 558-583.
*Duncan, Natanya. “Princess Laura Kofey and the Reverse Atlantic Experience” in The American South and the Atlantic World, eds. Brian Ward, Martyn Bone, and William A. Link (Gainesville: University of Florida, 2013).
*Goldthree, Reena. “Amy Jacques, Theodore Bilbo, and the Paradoxes of Black Nationalism,” in Global Circuits of Blackness: Interrogating the African Diaspora, eds. Jean Muteba Rahier, Percy C. Hintzen and Felipe Smith (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010).
*Leeds, Asia. “‘Toward the “Higher Type of Womanhood’: The Gendered Contours of Garveyism and the Making of Redemptive Geographies in Costa Rica, 1922–1941,”Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International, Volume 2, No. 1 (November 2013): 1-27.
Taylor, Ula Yvette, The Veiled Garvey: The Life and Times of Amy Jacques Garvey, University of North Carolina Press, 2002
Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, Ed. Colin A. Palmer. Vol. 3. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2006. p903. COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale, COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning
Garvey and Garveyism. New York: Collier Books, 1963..
The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey; or, Africa for the Africans. 1922. Dover, MA: Majority Press, 1986., ed.