Garvey’s Interracial Involvement

This blog was initially going to explore the similarities between the two Amys in Garvey’s life; Amy Ashwood Garvey and Amy Jacques Garvey, his first and second wives, respectively. However, while doing some reading on these remarkable women who were both instrumental in the establishing and promoting of the UNIA, a rather interesting fact was stumbled upon. That is, that Marcus Garvey had first been engaged to a European. In a letter dated March 2, 1914, Garvey wrote to his godfather, Alfred Burrowes, the following, “I am now breaking the news to you as the only person in Jamaica, that I am engaged to a Spanish-Irish heiress whom I had the pleasure of meeting during my tour on the Continent.” No more details seem to be available about this fiancée.

Now this revelation would come as a shock to most, as Garvey was an ardent proponent of the purity of race. He stated, “I believe in a pure black race …” He went further to say that, “I am conscious of the fact that slavery brought upon us the curse of many colours within the Negro race, but that is no reason why we of ourselves should perpetuate the evil …” So, for Garvey to have been involved with a non-Black woman, so much so that he intended to marry her, would seem a deviation from his principle on race purity. One can only wonder what was going through his mind when he made that decision. Was there an ulterior motive to such a move? However, one can only imagine, because, the deviation was quite short-lived.

On Garvey’s return to Jamaica in July 1914, he met Amy Ashwood, and the rest, as we know it, is history. Though in his letter to his godfather, he had said, “I hardly think I can change my mind in marrying her [the Spanish-Irish heiress]”, after being smitten by Amy Ashwood, he penned a “Dear Jane letter” to his fiancée, with Amy’s full knowledge. In it he said, “Marriage between us is now impossible. You will be far happier with a member of your race; so will I be with one of mine. I have seen a girl, blood of my blood, and of my own race. Forgive me, but if I marry you now that you know the truth, I shall revert to my own kind every time the opportunity presents itself …”       

The break-up would seem inevitable because that union would not have been in keeping with Garvey’s push to create a truly pure Black race. He, himself, recognized this and had stated to his godfather that the relationship was somewhat destructive of his principle. He also seemed to fear that the Press may have portrayed him as a hypocrite and would have ridiculed his relationship as he had commented on how British press had often sensationalized interracial relationships between Black men and White women. This may have been the reason behind him hesitating to announce his engagement both to the British and Jamaican press.   

Marcus Garvey constantly condemned interracial relationships and did not encourage “bastardy”. However, for a brief moment, he stepped out of the race and contemplated marriage to a woman who was already biracial.   

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