Ula Yvette Taylor. The Veiled Garvey: The Life and Times of Amy Jacques Garvey. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002. ix + 310 pp. $22.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8078-5386-3; $50.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8078-2718-5.
Reviewed by Joan Johnson (Department of History, Northeastern Illinois University)
Published on H-Women (August, 2003)
In Her Own Right: Amy Jacques Garvey
In Her Own Right: Amy Jacques Garvey
Ula Yvette Taylor, associate professor of African American Studies at University of California, Berkeley, has written a fascinating biography of Amy Jacques Garvey that seeks to establish Jacques Garvey as an intellectual and Pan-Africanist leader in her own right, apart from her marriage to Marcus Garvey, founder of the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Taylor, therefore, focuses on Jacques Garvey's "community feminism," as well as her role in the UNIA and the Pan-African movement after Marcus Garvey's death.
Perhaps Taylor's most commendable achievement is her ability to integrate the story of Jacques Garvey's personal life with that of her public life. Jacques Garvey's upper-class Jamaican background, tensions with Marcus Garvey's first wife Amy Ashwood, marital strife, and financial stress make for interesting reading but also illuminate important sides of Jacques Garvey's character and intellectual worldview.
Amy Jacques was raised as a light-skinned child of privilege who identified herself as "brown," rather than "black" like the majority of dark-skinned Jamaicans, who did not share the wealth and education available to Garvey's class. As a child, she was once ashamed of her father because of his darker skin. Yet she married Marcus Garvey, a dark-skinned man, and she embraced his philosophy of Pan-Africanism. In so doing, she changed her own self-conception. She began to call herself black and to stress her African roots. Taylor argues that this change occurred in large part because, when Jacques Garvey came to New York in 1917 (for health reasons), she found that her "brown" identity, so important in Jamaica, meant little in the United States. Instead she was the victim of Jim Crow segregation, the humiliation of which pushed her to embrace Garvey's teachings.
Although she had met him in Jamaica, Amy Jacques's first meaningful encounter with Marcus Garvey apparently came in 1919 when she attended one of his speeches and discussed his ideas with him afterwards in his office. In her memoir, she claims that he offered her a secretarial job based on their meeting. However, Amy Ashwood, Garvey's first wife and a secretary to him as well, claims that she had invited Jacques to live in her apartment, and then offered her a secretarial job with the UNIA. The different accounts are not surprising considering that Garvey married Amy Jacques in 1922, only months after he divorced Amy Ashwood (each accused the other of infidelity). Ashwood contested the divorce and later referred to herself as his widow. Garvey's attraction to Amy Jacques was a fascinating contradiction of his personal taste and his political beliefs--he apparently fell in love with her long wavy black hair, even though he proclaimed kinky black hair beautiful. Taylor argues, "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'" (p. 31).
Jacques Garvey raised money to bail Marcus Garvey out of jail when he was arrested for mail fraud and unofficially kept the UNIA running during his absences. During this time, Jacques Garvey wrote many articles for the Negro World. Taylor argues that these articles exhibit Jacques Garvey's commitment to "community feminism." Taylor defines community feminists as women who were helpmates to their husbands at home, but were feminists nonetheless because they believed in women's intellectual ability and their potential for public race leadership roles. That is, Jacques Garvey believed that women had specific gender roles (based in biology) which included motherhood and being helpmates to their husbands. While women were to be selfless wives, men were supposed to be breadwinners providing for their families.
At the turn of the century, members of many women's clubs, both white and black, argued that as moral women and mothers they had a duty to serve the community as well their own families, and that social welfare reform work grew from their commitment to moral homes and healthy children. Jacques Garvey took this argument a step further, arguing that women needed to bring their nurturing skills to bear not only on their family and local community, but also on the Pan-African nation. She focused on women's ability, intelligence, and need for education. Educated women were just as capable as men in her mind, and they had a duty to work for the Pan-African agenda alongside men. Furthermore, Jacques Garvey believed that women had to work more for Pan-Africanism than for feminism, because once a Pan-African nation was achieved, differences among blacks, including sexism, would fade, echoing the hope of some African Americans that communism could solve race issues. Taylor contrasts Jacques Garvey with well-known black women leaders of the early-twentieth century, most of whom made their mark in the women's club movement. She argues that unlike Mary Church Terrell and Lugenia Burns Hope, among others, Garvey thought racism was too deeply entrenched in white America to work for integration with whites. The work of Terrell, Hope, and other clubwomen with the Commission on Interracial Cooperation during the 1920s and 1930s, although not discussed by Taylor, supports her contention.
A major flaw in Jacques Garvey's philosophy of community feminism was the split between private and public behavior that it effectively created--women were to defer to their husbands at home, yet to be treated as equals in public in the Pan-Africanist movement by the very same men. Taylor admits that Jacques Garvey had a "male-dominated marriage." Furthermore, Jacques Garvey herself was not able to carry it out once she had children of her own. After the birth of her sons, she retreated from her writing and official duties for the UNIA, too busy caring for her young children to work for the nation. Finally, Jacques Garvey essentially abandoned her emphasis on feminism by the 1940s, when her writings no longer addressed gender issues. While Taylor acknowledges the contradictions inherent in community feminism as preached and lived by Jacques Taylor, she is more interested in its possibilities for new roles for women than in the realities of its failure to achieve such change.
After Garvey was deported from the United States, the family moved back to Jamaica. There, while Jacques Garvey continued to embrace black liberation rather than the privileges associated with a "brown" identity, she and her husband initially remained committed to capitalism. They lived in a relatively large home with servants and a car (donated by New York Garveyites). However, Garvey's mismanagement of funds, along with inconsistent income, left Jacques Garvey constantly scrambling for money. After foreclosing on their home and selling much of the furniture, she relied on her inheritance and generosity of her own family to make ends meet. Ironically, Marcus Garvey was defaulting on what Jacques Garvey considered the most basic duty of a husband--to provide financially for his family. He then left Jamaica to run the UNIA from the London office. Jacques Garvey did not rejoin him until two years later, and then only for a year. While Garvey was away traveling, Jacques Garvey decided to return to Jamaica to restore her son's health in the sunnier climate. The move reflected growing marital strife--Taylor asserts that when Garvey died in 1940 the pair were no longer speaking to each other.
Following Marcus Garvey's death, Amy distanced herself from the UNIA organization, but not from Marcus's identity or his thinking. Instead she supported Pan-Africanism through a variety of organizations, publications, and cooperation with former foes, including W. E. B. DuBois. During and after World War II, she and others attempted to gain recognition and self-rule for African states, especially through the newly formed United Nations. DuBois invited her to co-convene the Fifth Pan-African Congress held in 1945, although she could not afford the fare to England to attend. Amy Jacques Garvey's relationship with DuBois is quite interesting given the antagonism between DuBois and Marcus Garvey. Taylor does not address why DuBois was able to work more successfully with Amy than with her husband decades before. Perhaps she was less threatening to him than her husband had been--her husband was a male competitor for "leadership of the race" with millions of followers, while she was a woman without an organization behind her.
Jacques Garvey also revived the African Study Circle, founded by her husband, to study African history. She encouraged local study circles to form, in part distributing information through the New York chapter of the UNIA. In 1960, Jacques Garvey visited West Africa, where, as the wife of Marcus Garvey, she was well received. She died in 1973.
Taylor's inability to render Jacques Garvey as an intellectual of her own right stems in part from Jacques Garvey's own dedication to defending Marcus Garvey's ideas. She continued to refer to her Pan-African vision as Garveyism. She did explore feminist ideas which differed from the gender ideas of Marcus Garvey, but she ultimately dropped this emphasis after his death, when one would assume she would have been freer to explore it in more depth. She essentially allowed James Stewart, the new president-general of the UNIA, to take over the association despite her earlier calls for female leadership. In addition, although in later years she approved of more socialist ideas for solving poverty than her husband's emphasis on black capitalism, Taylor does not explore these ideas in great detail. Therefore, in general Jacques Garvey's thinking about Pan-Africanism does not seem too different from his, perhaps because she did not want to give up the recognition that association with him provided her.
Nonetheless, this study of her life makes clear the importance of her role in the UNIA and Pan-Africanism for decades. Taylor pushes for a reconsideration of the complex role of gender in the Garvey movement and she shows how Jacques Garvey shaped the meaning of his legacy for Pan-Africanism following his death. This is a fascinating and thought-provoking study of a complex, intelligent, and determined woman, suitable for an upper-division undergraduate class, especially in African-American or women's history. Along with new biographies of Ida B. Wells, Ella Baker, and Fannie Lou Hamer, Taylor explores the ways in which women of the African diaspora confronted racism and sexism simultaneously.
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Joan Johnson. Review of Taylor, Ula Yvette, The Veiled Garvey: The Life and Times of Amy Jacques Garvey.
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