BY SHEILA BROWN
You Probably Don’t Know Her Name, But She Was The Most Significant Woman Of The 20th Century.
It has been said that the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey was the first leader to change the global trajectory of his race. He did so by inculcating his people with a sense of destiny and dignity. Indeed, successive generations will echo that it was Garvey who unconditionally cared for the race and it was Garvey who represented its vocal cords. It would be difficult to find a greater hero. Garvey deserves the praise, recognition, and honor he receives for his unprecedented work, outpour of love, and sacrifice.
But, so does Amy Euphemia Jacques Garvey, the less known, even lesser celebrated leader who supported Garvey and helped him impact the world. This woman, whom Garvey himself confessed that he “neglected and cheated for the cause” of African liberation – a cause that he loved so much. She was a significant figure in her own right and deserves to be seated among the icons of liberation history. Therefore, this article is the first of three designed to educate readers about her fascinating life and contributions to the struggle for African liberation and political unity.
These installments, which make up what shall be known as the Amy Jacques Garvey Project (AJGP), seek to raise awareness about Jacques Garvey through an in-depth analysis and discussion of her life and unparalleled work. When this petite, confident Jamaican woman stepped into Garvey’s shoes as the emergent leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, she, too, possessed a world vision for the global African body politic to rise up as an independent and sovereign nation-one that motivated her completely. So, with the help of “The African Magazine,” the African diaspora aims to shine a light on the woman often described in terms of her relationship to Garvey, by finally recognizing that Jacques Garvey was also a major force of Black African independence and nationalism that she, too, should be recognized in her rightful place of history.
With an impressive career that spanned five decades (1919 to 1973), Jacques Garvey honed her skills as a Pan-African leader while serving as a UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association) political analyst, business administrator, archivist, and journalist. Publishing more than two-hundred twenty-six writings, her articles, editorials, short stories, and speeches helped stretch the UNIA’s political influence to every major continent. Her sharp political analyses was mostly showcased in the Negro World, where, from 1923-1928, she issued political critiques of governments, presidents, and other foreign heads of state. She examined clergy and assessed the state of the church in a similar fashion. All of this, she accomplished without neglecting to voice concern over the issues that impacted the lives of women during her term as editor of the women’s page.
Naturally, Jacques Garvey interacted with many prominent people as any key figure would who was so intimately involved with a movement powerful enough to capture the imagination of the world. These figures included the royal King of Swaziland and the iconic Mahatma Gandhi. She once remarked after meeting with Dr. George Washington Carver, that he was “one of the most interesting persons to talk with, for, notwithstanding his marvelous discoveries, he lived humbly.”
The former president of Ghana, The Honorable Kwame Nkrumah, was ushered into the global Pan-African movement by Jacques Garvey herself. She also found time to nurture, consult and help inform other international heads of state about Garveyism. Nnamdi Azikiwe was her intellectual comrade. Her collaborations with historians John Henrick Clarke and Toni Martin helped to expand Garveyism to the world. She did all of this work with dedication and zeal till the day she passed in 1973. She passed away on the same day of her wedding anniversary. She and Garvey married on July 27, 1922. Long after he died, she remained devoted to him and perpetuated his work the remainder of her life.
Jacques Garvey is the most significant woman of the 20th century. But questions remain, why are there no movies, documentaries, or Broadway plays that tastefully portray her prolific story or reenact the political saga of her life? Why is she seldom mentioned during Black History Month? Why do so few people recognize her as the global Pan-African leader that she really was? Once, an esteemed educator was asked her opinion of Jacques Garvey. The response she gave was typical. She stated: “Although I am a lover of history, I’m afraid I don’t know much about the wife of Marcus Garvey.” That educator was not alone. She was just like potentially millions of other people who have little to no knowledge of this iconic woman. Yet, historian John Henrik Clarke noted that during Garvey’s absence, “Mrs. Amy Jacques Garvey and a few loyal followers of the Movement…held the organization together”.
Much of this ignorance can be blamed on the attitudes that some of the prominent race men held toward women. For instance, a remark by W.E.B. Dubois lends insight and perspective about the attitudes typical of women during the time. He once referred to a very powerful woman by the name of Mary McCloud Bethune as a ‘harmless nuisance’. For those who don’t know, Bethune was the president of the National Council of Black Women, a former member of President Roosevelt’s cabinet, and his co-consultant-hardly a nuisance and very influential.
Jacques Garvey would have known this. She would have carefully studied her contemporaries. She examined their attitudes toward women. She paid special attention to the position that men held toward women in leadership. Accustomed to combating the chauvinistic attitudes herself, she attempted to circumvent this obstacle in many ways. Sometimes she repeated herself several times over. Other times she took great pains to explain the things she said or what message she intended to convey. She wanted to be heard and understood. On occasions, this led her to convince some male counterparts that she was just as adept at political analysis and dialogue as were men. Such was the case in a letter she wrote to DuBois. “Now dear professor, perhaps you may misunderstand the tone of my letters, as I have been so accustomed to talk with M. G. and take part in conferences with men, as ‘man to man’ that I don’t think or act, as if I ‘were just a woman.’”
Regardless of how well she explained herself in the eyes of certain men, her being vocal meant that she was perceived by them as bossy, uncompromising, and worse, unfeminine. In Jamaica, for instance, women during that era seldom held leadership positions. In the 1900s, many men believed that political issues were their domain. They felt that women were suited exclusively for social issues and, of course, domesticity. In 1923, shortly after Garvey’s arrest, several men in leadership roles at the UNIA challenged Jacques Garvey by indirectly accusing her of attempting to usurp leadership from them. They wrote deceptively about the matter while positioning themselves as defenders of her honor and referring to her as helpless.
They proffered that: “Mrs. Garvey is not part of this committee. Mrs. Garvey is not an officer of the association. Mrs. Garvey doesn’t actively or passively control the organization,” they said before further adding, “It is beneath the dignity of common decency to attempt to drag the name of an innocent and helpless woman into an arena where she cannot properly defend herself.” Yet, Jacques Garvey was a leader. When DuBois invited her to be a co-convener–the only woman to hold this position–at the 5th Pan-African Congress in 1945, she smiled deep in her soul. Finally, she was being recognized by her colleagues for her political leadership. With her husband, she was free to express herself as an intellectual. Garvey welcomed her to exercise her wit, argue her points, and express her opinions if it clashed with his own. He did not mind her vocalizing an opinion or debating with him on political issues. She explained how debates transpired between them during their intimate moments as a couple, stating thus: “On topics of international or national importance which warranted discussion we often differed on points; and then we would argue–until we could compromise, or until he would say, ‘O.K., “Mopsie” you win.’”
In fact, the only time she was not welcomed or allowed to be “full of arguments and contradictions” with Garvey was when he took some time for himself and experimented in the kitchen. The “Garvey Special” was the outcome of blending fresh fruit and flavors, an activity he enjoyed doing so much he wished he’d taken chemistry courses early in life. Jacques Garvey was permitted to briefly come into the kitchen to taste his recipes; but she had to depart from him once that job was done.
Despite their heated differences, DuBois and Garvey had at least one thing in common. They both recognized that Jacques Garvey was too critical not to hold a leadership position in Pan-African movements. Whether it was the UNIA or the 5th Pan African Congress, she was too powerful and influential not to be instrumental in carrying out the mission of African liberation.
With her knowledge, sophistication in global politics, interpretation of national events, administration of business, and effective management of resources, she was clearly a leader of indispensable value. Therefore, the time has arrived for historical justice. It’s time to honor the legacy of Jacques Garvey. Doing this will require an examination of the times in which she lived; the people with whom she struggled against the attitudes that shaped, hindered and destroyed the work of the Garvey movement; the tremendous strain all of this placed on her back.
In 1925, the risks to Jacques Garvey increased exponentially when Garvey was arrested. The feds raided the UNIA headquarters; the media ran disparaging reports; people were being torn apart; and financial resources were depleted. At that moment, Jacques Garvey discovered her own power. Not only was she an excellent wife and possessed the potential to be a great mother, she was an agent of change, a courageous leader, a financier, an outspoken advocate, a critical thinker, and a woman deeply undervalued for her role as a leader of Pan-Africanism and immense contributions to the UNIA.
**This article was first published in The African Magazine
About The Author
Sheila Brown, JD, is a Divine Life Strategist, Health & Wellness Coach, Emergency Preparedness Consultant, and Garveyite. Her passion for revolutionary African global liberation and unity is what fuels her love and passion for the legendary ‘Queen Mother’ Amy Euphemia Jacques Garvey, as well as the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey.
Learn more about Sheila Brown’s books, artistic works, products, courses, public events, coaching programs and workshops online at QUEENDOMQARE.COM or SHEILABROWNSPEAKS.COM. She can be reached at 301-388-5273 or INFO@SHEILABROWNSPEAKS.COM.