On March 25, 1944, during World War II, the New York Amsterdam announced that Pan-Africanist feminist Amy Ashwood Garvey was the keynote speaker at the West Indies National Council’s mass meeting, scheduled to take place that weekend at the Renaissance Casino in Harlem. Organized by a group of black activists and intellectuals in the city, the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the role black men and women in the Caribbean should play in the war effort (click to view article PDF).
Born in 1897 in Port Antonio, Jamaica, Ashwood was the first wife of charismatic black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. In 1914, she and Garvey launched the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), the largest and most influential Pan-Africanist movement of the twentieth century. When the UNIA’s headquarters relocated to Harlem in 1917, Ashwood served as general secretary in the New York office and played a fundamental role in popularizing the Negro World, the UNIA’s official newspaper. She remained actively engaged in the organization’s affairs until her relationship with Garvey ended in 1922.
Although she left the UNIA, Ashwood remained actively engaged in global black politics and by the mid-twentieth century, was one of the leading figures in Pan-Africanist politics. During the 1940s, Ashwood spent much of her time in London but also traveled extensively to Africa, the United States, and the Caribbean. In 1944, when this newspaper article was published, Ashwood was visiting the United States for medical treatment but also for political purposes. While in the United States, Ashwood sought out new political alliances, attempted to organize black women workers, and publicly championed black labor rights.
Her scheduled talk at the Renaissance Casino in Harlem in 1944 represented one of many speaking engagements in which Ashwood reaffirmed her commitment to securing black rights and advancing Pan-Africanist politics. One year later, Ashwood joined several other black activists and intellectuals at the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester, arguably the most significant gathering of anticolonial activists during the twentieth century.