Amy Ashwood Garvey: A Revolutionary Pan-African Feminist

by Nydia Swaby

“A nation without great women is a nation frolicking in peril. Let us go forward and lift the degradations which rest on the Negro woman – God’s most glorious gift to all civilizations.”

~Amy Ashwood Garvey

Amy Ashwood's reception at Juaben. Photo courtesy Lionel Yard collection.

If you ask a Jamaican to name a national hero, the first person that usually comes to mind is Marcus Garvey, the Black Nationalist who popularized the movement of Pan-Africanism in the early 20th century. Based on his belief that the only way to improve the conditions of black people around the world was to unite them into one racial community Marcus Garvey founded the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Kingston, Jamaica in 1914. The influence of “Garveyism” can be traced throughout the Afro-Caribbean, United States, and Africa. People of African heritage from every corner of the world know of Marcus Garvey’s philosophy and writings.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Amy Ashwood Garvey, Marcus Garvey’s first wife and co-founder of the UNIA. Serving as a representative of the Pan-African movement Amy Ashwood lived a politically active life independent of her relationship with Marcus Garvey. She toured the United States, all islands of the Caribbean, South and Central America, Europe, the British Isles, and West Africa lecturing on the need for unity among people of African descent and chronicling the experiences of the people she encountered with the goal of publishing her findings. To date, none of Amy Ashwood Garvey’s manuscripts about her travels and humanitarian work have ever been published. However, two biographies have been written about her life, and she is referenced in several articles and books on Caribbean radicalism, Pan-Africanism, and Black nationalism. Continue reading