Claudia Jones

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Claudia Jones
Claudia Jones.jpg
Born Claudia Cumberbatch Jones
(1915-02-15)15 February 1915
Belmont, Port of Spain, Trinidad
Died 24 December 1964(1964-12-24) (aged 49)
London, England
Nationality Trinidadian
Occupation Journalist
Years active 1936–1964
Family Mother, Father and two sisters

Claudia Jones, née Claudia Vera Cumberbatch (15 February 1915 – 24 December 1964), was a Trinidad-born journalist. As a child she migrated with her family to the US, where she became a political activist and black nationalist through Communism, using the false name Jones as "self-protective disinformation".[1] As a result of her political activities, she was deported in 1955 and subsequently resided in the United Kingdom. She founded Britain's first Black newspaper, The West Indian Gazette, in 1958.[2]

Early life[edit]

Claudia Vera Cumberbatch was born in Belmont, Port of Spain, Trinidad, on 15 February 1915. When she was nine years old, her family emigrated to New York City following the post-war cocoa price crash in Trinidad. Her mother died five years later, and her father eventually found work to support the family. Jones won the Theodore Roosevelt Award for Good Citizenship at her junior high school. In 1932, due to poor living conditions, she was struck with tuberculosis, a condition that irreparably damaged her lungs and plagued her for the rest of her life. She graduated from high school, but her family was so poor that they could not afford to attend the graduation ceremony.[3]

United States career[edit]

Bandshell in Eastlake Park in Phoenix where in 1948 Jones spoke to a crowd of 1,000 people about equal rights for African Americans.[4]

Despite being academically bright, classed as an immigrant woman she was severely limited in her career choices, and so instead of going to college Jones began working in a laundry, and subsequently found other retail work in Harlem. During this time she joined a drama group, and began to write a column called "Claudia Comments" for a Harlem journal.[5]

In 1936, trying to find organisations supporting the Scottsboro Boys,[6][7] she joined the American Communist Party (ACP). In 1937 she joined the editorial staff of the Daily Worker, rising by 1938 to become editor of the Weekly Review. After the Young Communist League became American Youth for Democracy during World War II, Jones became editor of its monthly journal, Spotlight. After the war, Jones became executive secretary of the Women's National Commission, secretary for the Women's Commission of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), and in 1952 took the same position at the National Peace Council. In 1953, she took over the editorship of Negro Affairs.[8]

"An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!"[edit]

Jones' best known piece of writing, "An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!", appeared in 1949 in the magazine Political Affairs. It exhibits Jones' development of what later came to be termed "intersectional" analysis within a Marxist framework. In it, she wrote:[9]

The bourgeoisie is fearful of the militancy of the Negro woman, and for good reason. The capitalists know, far better than many progressives seem to know, that once Negro women begin to take action, the militancy of the whole Negro people, and thus of the anti-imperialist coalition, is greatly enhanced....

As mother, as Negro, and as worker, the Negro woman fights against the wiping out of the Negro family, against the Jim Crow ghetto existence which destroys the health, morale, and very life of millions of her sisters, brothers, and children.

Viewed in this light, it is not accidental that the American bourgeoisie has intensified its oppression, not only of the Negro people in general, but of Negro women in particular. Nothing so exposes the drive to fascization in the nation as the callous attitude which the bourgeoisie displays and cultivates toward Negro women.

Deportation[edit]

An elected member of the National Committee of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), she also organised and spoke at events. As a result of her membership of CPUSA and various associated activities, in 1948 Jones was arrested and sentenced to the first of four spells in prison.[10] Incarcerated on Ellis Island, she was threatened with being deported to Trinidad.

Following a hearing by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, she was found in violation of the McCarran Act for being an alien (non-US citizen) who had joined the Communist Party. Several witnesses testified to her role in party activities, and she had identified herself as a party member since 1936 when completing her Alien Registration on 24 December 1940, in conformity with the Alien Registration Act. She was ordered to be deported on 21 December 1950.[11]

In 1951, when only 36 and in prison, she suffered her first heart attack.[8] That same year, she was tried and convicted with eleven others, including her friend Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, of "un-American activities" under the Smith Act,[12] specifically activities against the United States government.[3] The Supreme Court refused to hear their appeal. In 1955, Jones began her sentence of a year and a day at the Federal Reformatory for Women at Alderson, West Virginia.[8] She was released on 23 October 1955.[13]

She was refused entry to Trinidad and Tobago, in part because the British colonial governor Major General Sir Hubert Elvin Rance considered that "she may prove troublesome".[12] She was eventually offered residency in the United Kingdom on humanitarian grounds, and federal authorities agreed to allow that when she agreed to cease contesting her deportation.[14] On 7 December 1955, at Harlem's Hotel Theresa, 350 people met to see her off.[8]

United Kingdom career[edit]

Jones arrived in London two weeks later, at the time of the building of the Empire Windrush community, and vast expansion of the British African-Caribbean community. But on engaging the political community that she had just left in the United States, she was disappointed to find that many British communists were hostile to a black woman.[15]

Activism[edit]

Landing in England at a time when many landlords, shops and even some government establishments displayed signs saying "No Irish, No Coloured, No Dogs", Jones found a community that needed active organisation.[12] She began to get involved in the British African-Caribbean community to organise both access to basic facilities, as well as the early movement for equal rights.[10]

Supported by her friends Trevor Carter, Nadia Cattouse, Amy Ashwood Garvey, Beryl McBurnie, Pearl Prescod and her lifelong mentor Paul Robeson, Jones campaigned against racism in housing, education and employment. She addressed peace rallies and the Trade Union Congress, and visited Japan, Russia, and China, where she met with Mao Zedong.[16]

In the early 1960s, despite failing health, Jones helped organise campaigns against the 1876 Immigration Act, which would make it harder for non-Whites to migrate to Britain. She also campaigned for the release of Nelson Mandela, and spoke out against racism in the workplace.[10]

The West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News[edit]

From her experiences in the United States, Jones knew that "people without a voice were as lambs to the slaughter."[16] Therefore, in 1958 above a barber's shop in Brixton,[12] she founded and thereafter edited the anti-imperialist, anti-racist paper, The West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News (WIG).[17] The paper became a key contributor to the rise of consciousness within the Black British community.[16]

Jones wrote in her last published essay, "The Caribbean Community in Britain", in Freedomways:[18]

Always strapped for cash, WIG folded eight months and four editions after Jones's death in December 1964.[8]

Notting Hill Carnival[edit]

Main article: Notting Hill Carnival
Claudia Jones blue plaque, Notting Hill

Jones's most well-known lasting contribution in the UK is considered to be the Notting Hill Carnival. Four months after launching WIG, racial riots broke out in Notting Hill, London and Robin Hood Chase, Nottingham; followed a few months later by the murder of young West Indian carpenter Kelso Cochrane by six white youths in a racially motivated attack.[5]

In light of the "black on white" racially driven analysis by the existing British daily newspapers, Jones began receiving visits from both members of the black British community, as well as various national leaders responding to the concern of their citizens, including: Cheddi Jagan of British Guiana; Norman Manley of Jamaica; Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago; plus Phyllis Shand Allfrey and Carl La Corbinière of the West Indies Federation.[8]

As a result, Jones identified the need to "wash the taste of Notting Hill and Nottingham out of our mouths".[8] It was suggested that the British black community should have a carnival; it was December 1958, so the next question was: "In the winter?" Jones used her connections to gain use of St Pancras Town Hall in January 1959 for the first Mardi-Gras-based carnival,[19] which headlined the Boscoe Holder Dance Troupe, jazz guitarist Fitzroy Coleman and singer Cleo Laine;[5] and was televised nationally by the BBC. These early celebrations were epitomised by the slogan: "A people's art is the genesis of their freedom."[5]

Funds raised from the event were used to pay the court fees and fines of convicted young black men.[18]

Death[edit]

Jones died on Christmas Eve 1964, aged 49, found on Christmas Day at her flat. A post-mortem declared that she had died of a massive heart attack, due to heart disease and tuberculosis.[12]

Her funeral on 9 January 1965 was a large and political ceremony, with her burial plot selected to be that located to the left of her hero, Karl Marx, in Highgate Cemetery, North London.[20] A message from Paul Robeson was read out:[12]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Buzz Johnson, "I Think of My Mother": Notes on the Life and Times of Claudia Jones, London: Karia Press, 1985
  • Marika Sherwood, 'Claudia Jones: a life in exile: A Biography', Lawrence & Wishart, 1999
  • 'Claudia Jones’, Special issue: BASA Newsletter #44, January 2006
  • Carole Boyce-Davies, 'Left of Karl Marx', Duke University Press, 2008
  • 'Claudia Jones: Beyond Containment', Ayebia Clarke Publishing, 2011

Legacy[edit]

The National Union of Journalists' Black Members Council holds a prestigious annual Claudia Jones Memorial Lecture every October, during Black History Month, to honour Jones and celebrate her contribution to Black-British journalism.

The Claudia Jones Organisation was founded in London in 1982 to support and empower women and families of African-Caribbean heritage.[21][22]

Winsome Pinnock's 1989 play A Rock in Water was inspired by the life of Claudia Jones.[23][24]

In October 2008, Britain's Royal Mail commemorated Jones with a special postage stamp.[25]

Jones is named on the list of 100 Great Black Britons.[26]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Davies, Carole Boyce, Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones. Duke University Press, 2007.[27]
  • Guy-Sheftall, Beverly, Words of Fire: an Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought. The New Press, 1995.
  • Hinds, Donald, Colin Prescod & Marika Sherwood, Claudia Jones: A Life in Exile. Lawrence & Wishart, 2000.
  • Howard, Walter T. We Shall Be Free!: Black Communist Protests in Seven Voices. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2013.
  • Marable, Manning, & Leith Mullings, Let Nobody Turn Us Around: Voices of Resistance, Reform, and Renewal. Rowman & Littlefield, 2009.
  • Washington, Mary Helen, "Alice Childress, Lorraine Hansberry and Claudia Jones: Black Women Write the Popular Front", in Bill V. Mullin and James Smethurst (eds), Left of the Color Line: Race, Radicalism and 20th Century United States Literature. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Jeremy Taylor, "Excavating Claudia", The Caribbean Review of Books, May 2008.
  2. ^ Ian Thomson, "Here To Stay", The Guardian, 29 August 2009.
  3. ^ a b Boyce Davies, Carole, Left of Karl Marx: the Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones (Duke University Press, 2007).
  4. ^ City of Phoenix; AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORIC PROPERTY SURVEY
  5. ^ a b c d Lauren Ashi. ""A people's art is the genesis of their freedom" – Claudia Jones". catchavibe.co.uk. Retrieved 30 October 2011. 
  6. ^ "Claudia Jones", Rebel Researchers Collective, 23 December 2012.
  7. ^ "Claudia Jones, Communist", The Marxist-Leminist website, 1 March 2010.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Donald Hinds (3 July 2008). "Claudia Jones and the 'West Indian Gazette'". Race & Class. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  9. ^ in Marable, Manning, and Leith Mullings, Let Nobody Turn Us Around (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009).
  10. ^ a b c "Claudia Jones". Black History Month. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  11. ^ New York Times: "Ouster Ordered of Claudia Jones," 22 December 1950, accessed 27 June 2012.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Hassan Mahamdallie (13 October 2004). "Claudia Jones". Socialist Worker, No. 1923. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  13. ^ New York Times: "Claudia Jones Loses," 10 November 1955, accessed 27 June 2012.
  14. ^ New York Times: "Red Agrees to Leave Country," 18 November 1955, accessed 27 June 2012.
  15. ^ "Caludia Jones". BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  16. ^ a b c SHANGO BAKU. "CLAUDIA JONES REMEMBERED". ITZ Caribbean. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  17. ^ Schwarz, Bill, "Claudia Jones and The West Indian Gazette: Reflections on the Emergence of Post-colonial Britain", in Twentieth Century British History, vol. 14:3 (2003).
  18. ^ a b www.blackpast.org
  19. ^ Image of "Caribbean Carnival" 1959 brochure.
  20. ^ Rhiannon Edwards, "Claudia Jones celebrated at Highgate Cemetery", Ham&High, 5 October 2012.
  21. ^ Claudia Jones Organisation.
  22. ^ Margaret Busby and Nia Reynolds, "Buzz Johnson obituary", The Guardian (online), 5 March 2014.
  23. ^ Tricia Reid, "Claudia", West Indian Digest, No. 161, February/March 1989, pp. 29–30
  24. ^ D. Keith Peacock, "Chapter 9: So People Know We're Here: Black Theatre in Britain" in Thatcher's Theatre: British Theatre and Drama in the Eighties, Greenwood Press, 1999, p. 179.
  25. ^ "The Notting Hill Carnival on stamps", The British Postal Museum & Archive.
  26. ^ 100 Great Black Britons.
  27. ^ Related articles and reviews.

External links[edit]