On this day in 1919, Marcus Garvey, the Jamaican-born founder of the United Negro Improvement Association, survived an attempt on his life due in part to his first wife shielding him from his assailant. Garvey was shot and wounded twice by a man rumored to be sent by a powerful government enemy who was then found dead the next day.
Garvey, co-founded the UNIA alongside fellow Jamaican national and leader of its women’s faction, Amy Ashwood. His promotion of Pan-Africanism and Black independence and unity made him one of the early civil rights leaders once he moved from Jamaica to New York. His work attracted the attention of New York assistant district attorney Edwin P. Kilroe. Kilroe’s attempts to make trumped up charges stick failed and he become an enemy of Garvey’s.
On October 14, 1919, George Tyler entered Garvey’s Harlem office asking for the leader. While it has been rumored that Tyler told Garvey he was sent there by Kilroe to assassinate him, that account has never been officially confirmed. In author Colin Grant’s 2008 book, Negro With A Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey, Garvey’s second wife, Amy Jacques shared her recollection of the events.
Tyler might have been an investor in Garvey’s Universal Restaurant who was allegedly rebuffed by the UNIA. Tyler burst into Garvey’s Harlem office by kicking in the downstairs door and demanding an audience. When Garvey went to investigate, Tyler opened fire. Garvey was struck once in the scalp and twice in the leg but was shielded from further injury by Ashwood.
After a scuffle, Tyler ran off but was arrested. The next day, Tyler reportedly tried to escape by jumping through a window but fell 30 feet to his death. Some historians consider his death a homicide.
Despite being bandaged and still recovering from the wounds, Garvey made it to a speaking engagement in Philadelphia the next day, solidifying his growing support. That December, Garvey and Ashwood wed. They would divorce three years later, with Garvey marrying Jacques, who was Ashwood’s best friend and her maid of honor.
Garvey was eventually deported from the U.S., and died in London at the age of 52 after a series of strokes. His is now buried in his homeland of Jamaica and considered a national hero.