Amy Ashwood Garvey: The Woman Behind Jamaican Pan-Africanism

Life after Marcus Garvey

Playwright, social worker, journalist, political activist, feminist, restaurateur, Pan-Africanist and world-traveller are just some of the monikers that Amy Ashwood Garvey wore throughout her life. She lived for short whiles in England, Liberia, Nigeria, Ghana, Trinidad, Barbados, Las Palms (one of the Canary Islands) and Panama. Here is a list of some of her achievements in her post-Garvey-marriage years:

  • In 1924, she helped found the Nigerian Progress Union
  • In 1926, she authored and produced three musicals which played at Lafayette theatre in Harlem.
  • In the 1930s, she opened a restaurant in England offering authentic West Indian dishes. The Gleaner article states: “It became a haunt fir famous Pan-Africanists such as CLR James, George Padmore and Jomo Kenyatta.” The restaurant was also a meeting place to discuss strategy and ideologies.
  • In the 1940s, upon her return to Jamaica, she helped to form the JAG Smith Political Party, which was not very successful; and also tried to start a School of Domestic Science for women. Back in the US afterward, she was instrumental in the campaign of Adam Clayton Powell, the first black person to elected to Congress to represent New York.
  • In 1945, she co-chaired the opening ceremony of the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England. Leaders from Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas met to “discuss their political situation and future”. One of the main demands was the end of colonial rule. Attendees included Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana) and Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya). Both became leaders of their own countries. Also in attendance were Chief Akintola (Nigeria) and Peter Abrahams (South Africa/Jamaica).
  • Between 1946 and 1949, Amy visited Africa – she lived in Ghana, Nigeria and Liberia and visited Sierra Leone, Senegal and the Cameroons – doing extensive work on women and looking at issues affecting them, including “family, voluntary organisations and polygamy”.
  • On her return to England, she did extensive social work, especially with West Indian migrants. She also opened another restaurant and a community centre.
  • In 1958, during the Notting Hill riots, sparked by racial tensions in the neighbourhood where she had her community centre after some white hoodlums randomed attacked people of colour, Amy was once again instrumental in the work to quell the tension. The situation was so serious that Jamaican premier Norman Manley flew to England to hep assuage matters.
  • Amy also did plenty work for women’s rights and issues in the Caribbean and West Africa in the 1950s. Notably, she got several women’s groups to come together to form the Barbados Women’s Alliance.

She returned to Jamaica in 1968 and died on May 3, 1969.