Claudia Vera Cumberbatch
15 February 1915
|Died||24 December 1964 (aged 49)|
|Resting place||Highgate Cemetery|
|Other names||Claudia Cumberbatch Jones|
|Political party||Communist Party USA|
|Family||Mother, father and two sisters|
Claudia Jones, née Claudia Vera Cumberbatch (21 February 1915 – 24 December 1964), was a Trinidad-born journalist and activist. 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". As a result of her political activities, she was deported in 1955 and subsequently resided in the United Kingdom. She founded Britain's first major black newspaper, West Indian Gazette (WIG), in 1958.
- 1 Early life
- 2 United States career
- 3 Deportation
- 4 United Kingdom career
- 5 Death
- 6 Legacy
- 7 Bibliography
- 8 Further reading
- 9 See also
- 10 External links
Claudia Vera Cumberbatch was born in Belmont, Port of Spain, Trinidad, on 21 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.
United States career
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.
In 1936, trying to find organisations supporting the Scottsboro Boys, she joined the Young Communist League USA. 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.
Black Feminist Leader in the Communist Party
As a member of the Communist Party USA and a black national feminist, Jones identified with black women's oppression, known as triple oppression. Her ideology consisted of a conceptualization of race, class, and gender within a Marxist lens. Her focus was on "an anti-imperialist coalition, managed by working-class leadership, fueled by the involvement of women." However, Jones was often considered more radical than Marx because she did not believe that capitalism was the only oppressor contributing to sexism and racism. The Communist Party often failed to acknowledge women's difficulty in finding and securing work, in which Jones focused on growing the party's support for black and white women. She sought job training programs, equal pay for equal work, government controls on food prices and funding for wartime childcare programs. Jones supported a subcommittee to address the "women's question." She insisted on development in the party on theoretical training of women comrades, organization of women into mass organizations, daytime classes for women, and "babysitter" funds to allow women's activism.
"An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!"
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 her development of what later came to be termed "intersectional" analysis within a Marxist framework. In it, she wrote:
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.
Historically, the Negro woman has been the guardian, the protector, of the Negro family.... 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.
An elected member of the National Committee of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), Jones also organised and spoke at events. As a result of her membership of CPUSA and various associated activities, in 1948 she was arrested and sentenced to the first of four spells in prison. Incarcerated on Ellis Island, she was threatened with deportation 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.
In 1951, aged 36 and in prison, she suffered her first heart attack. That same year, she was tried and convicted with 11 others, including her friend Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, of "un-American activities" under the Smith Act, specifically activities against the United States government. 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. She was released on 23 October 1955.
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". She was eventually offered residency in the United Kingdom on humanitarian grounds, and federal authorities agreed to allow it when she agreed to cease contesting her deportation. On 7 December 1955, at Harlem's Hotel Theresa, 350 people met to see her off.
United Kingdom career
Jones arrived in London two weeks later, at a time when the British African-Caribbean community was expanding. However, on engaging the political community in the UK, she was disappointed to find that many British communists were hostile to a black woman.
At this time in Britain, 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. She became involved in the British African-Caribbean community to organise both access to basic facilities, as well as the early movement for equal rights.
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.
In the early 1960s, her health failing, Jones helped organise campaigns against the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill (passed in April 1962), 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.
West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News, 1958
From her experiences in the United States, Jones believed that "people without a voice were as lambs to the slaughter." In March 1958 above a barber's shop in Brixton, she founded and thereafter edited the anti-imperialist, anti-racist paper West Indian Gazette, its full title subsequently displayed on its masthead as West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News, (WIG). The paper became a key contributor to the rise of consciousness within the Black British community.
The newspaper has served as a catalyst, quickening the awareness, socially and politically, of West Indians, Afro-Asians and their friends. Its editorial stand is for a united, independent West Indies, full economic, social and political equality and respect for human dignity for West Indians and Afro-Asians in Britain, and for peace and friendship between all Commonwealth and world peoples.
Always strapped for cash, WIG folded eight months and four editions after Jones's death in December 1964.
Notting Hill riots and "Caribbean Carnival", 1959
In August 1958, four months after the launch of WIG, occurred the Notting Hill race riots and similar disturbances in Robin Hood Chase, Nottingham. In view of the racially driven analysis of these events by the existing British daily newspapers, Jones began receiving visits from members of the black British community and also from 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, as well as Phyllis Shand Allfrey and Carl La Corbinière of the West Indies Federation.
As a result, Jones identified the need to "wash the taste of Notting Hill and Nottingham out of our mouths". 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, directed by Edric Connor (who in 1951 had arranged for the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra to appear at the Festival of Britain) and headlining the Boscoe Holder Dance Troupe, jazz guitarist Fitzroy Coleman and singer Cleo Laine; the event was televised nationally by the BBC. These early celebrations were epitomised by the slogan: "A people's art is the genesis of their freedom."
A footnote on the front cover of the original 1959 souvenir brochure states: "A part of the proceeds [from the sale] of this brochure are to assist the payments of fines of coloured and white youths involved in the Notting Hill events." Jones and the West Indian Gazette also organised five other annual indoor Caribbean Carnival cabarets at such London venues as Seymour Hall, Porchester Hall and the Lyceum Ballroom, which events are seen as precursors of the celebration of Caribbean Carnival that culminated in the Notting Hill Carnival.
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 the tomb of her hero, Karl Marx, in Highgate Cemetery, North London. A message from Paul Robeson was read out:
It was a great privilege to have known Claudia Jones. She was a vigorous and courageous leader of the Communist Party of the United States, and was very active in the work for the unity of white and coloured peoples and for dignity and equality, especially for the Negro people and for women.
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.
Jones is named on the list of 100 Great Black Britons (2003).
She is the subject of a documentary by Z. Nia Reynolds, Looking for Claudia Jones.
Commemoration of the 100th anniversary of her birth
Various activities took place from June 2014 onwards. The most successful were possibly those organised by Community Support, which put substantial resources into basic research into aspects of her life and work.
This led to new revelations and rediscoveries about Claudia Jones, not included in the three printed biographies, or the film biography.
Community Support organised A Claudia Jones 100 Day on the 100th anniversary of her birth at Kennington Park Estate Community Centre on Saturday, 21 February 2015. This began with a guided tour showing her two main residences while she lived in London, and the former West Indian Gazette office nearby.
There was also a celebration at The Cloth, in Belmont, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, near to her birthplace, on the same day.
The Day was associated with an event held on the previous evening at Claudia Jones Organisation in Hackney, which featured a screening of the film Looking for Claudia Jones by Z. Nia Reynolds.
- Claudia Jones, "We Seek Full Equality for Women (1949)."
- Buzz Johnson, "I Think of My Mother": Notes on the Life and Times of Claudia Jones, London: Karia Press, 1985. ISBN 978-0946918027.
- Marika Sherwood, Claudia Jones: A Life in Exile: A Biography, Lawrence & Wishart, 1999. ISBN 978-0853158820.
- "Claudia Jones", Special issue: BASA Newsletter #44, January 2006
- Carole Boyce-Davies, Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones, Duke University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0822341161.
- Carole Boyce-Davies, Claudia Jones: Beyond Containment, Ayebia Clarke Publishing, 2011. ISBN 978-0956240163.
- Clarke, Camryn S., Escaping the Master’s House: Claudia Jones & The Black Marxist Feminist Tradition. Senior Theses, Trinity College, Hartford, CT, 2017.
- Gore, Dayo. Radicalism at the Crossroads: African American Women Activists in the Cold War. NYU Press, 2011.
- Guy-Sheftall, Beverly, Words of Fire: an Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought. The New Press, 1995.
- 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.
- Jeremy Taylor, "Excavating Claudia", The Caribbean Review of Books, May 2008.
- Ian Thomson, "Here To Stay", The Guardian, 29 August 2009.
- Boyce Davies, Carole, Left of Karl Marx: the Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones (Duke University Press, 2007).
- City of Phoenix; AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORIC PROPERTY SURVEY Archived 10 October 2014 at the Wayback Machine
- Abayomi Azikiwe, "Claudia Jones defied racism, sexism and class oppression", Workers World, 6 February 2013.
- "Claudia Jones" Archived 6 March 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Rebel Researchers Collective, 23 December 2012.
- "Claudia Jones, Communist", The Marxist-Leminist website, 1 March 2010.
- Mary Davis (visiting professor Teanne at Royal Holloway, University of London), "Claudia Jones: Communist, anti-racist and feminist" Archived 11 October 2016 at the Wayback Machine, Morning Star, 9 March 2015, accessed 10 March 2015.
- Donald Hinds (3 July 2008). "Claudia Jones and the 'West Indian Gazette'". Race & Class. Archived from the original on 9 April 2010. Retrieved 29 October 2011.
- Lynn, Denise. "Socialist Feminism and Triple Oppression". Journal for the Study of Radicalism. 8: 1–20.
- Reprinted in Margaret Busby (ed.), Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Words and Writings by Women of African Descent (1992), Vintage pb edition, 1993, p. 262.
- "Claudia Jones". Black History Month. Retrieved 29 October 2011.
- New York Times: "Ouster Ordered of Claudia Jones; Hearing Officer Finds Her an Alien Who Became Member of Communist Party Alien Registration Affidavit Additional Charge Sustained", 22 December 1950; accessed 27 June 2012.
- Hassan Mahamdallie (13 October 2004). "Claudia Jones". Socialist Worker, No. 1923. Retrieved 29 October 2011.
- New York Times: "Claudia Jones Loses; Communist Facing Ouster Is Denied Stay to Aid Charney", 10 November 1955; accessed 27 June 2012.
- New York Times: "Red Agrees to Leave Country", 18 November 1955; accessed 27 June 2012.
- "Claudia Jones". Woman's Hour. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 29 October 2011.
- Shango Baku. "Claudia Jones Remembered". ITZ Caribbean. Archived from the original on 7 April 2012. Retrieved 29 October 2011.
- 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).
- "West Indian Gazette", Lambeth Landmark.
- Claudia Jones, "The Caribbean Community in Britain", Freedomways V. 4 (Summer 1964), 341–57. Quoted in McClendon III, John H., "Jones, Claudia (1915–1964)", Blackpast.org.
- "Claudia Jones (1915–1964)" Archived 31 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine, Black History Pages.
- Image of "Caribbean Carnival" 1959 brochure.
- Ray Funk, "Notting Hill Carnival: Mas and the mother country", Caribbean Beat, Issue 100.
- Notes, "(1954) Edric Connor & The Caribbeans – Songs from Jamaica", folkcatalogue.
- Ishmahil Blagrove Jr, "Notting Hill Carnival — the untold story", London Evening Standard, 7 August 2014.
- Rhiannon Edwards, "Claudia Jones celebrated at Highgate Cemetery" Archived 23 March 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Ham&High, 5 October 2012.
- Claudia Jones Organisation.
- Margaret Busby and Nia Reynolds, "Buzz Johnson obituary", The Guardian (online), 5 March 2014.
- Tricia Reid, "Claudia", West Indian Digest, No. 161, February/March 1989, pp. 29–30.
- 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.
- 100 Great Black Britons.
- "Claudia Jones Blue Plaque unveiled", ItzCaribbean, 22 August 2008.
- "Claudia Jones" at Open Plaques.
- "The Notting Hill Carnival on stamps", The British Postal Museum & Archive.
- "Looking for Claudia Jones trailer", Blackstock Films, 2010.
- Rhondor Dowlat, "Claudia Jones’ life remembered", Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, 21 February 2015.
- Left of Karl Marx by Dr. Carole Boyce-Davies: Related articles and reviews.
- "Escaping the Master’s House: Claudia Jones & The Black Marxist Feminist Tradition", Senior Theses and Projects, Trinity College Digital Repository.
- List of 100 great black Britons
- "Claudia Jones", Exploring 20th Century London.
- Biodata for Claudia Cumberbatch Jones
- Ian Thomson, "Here To Stay", The Guardian, 29 August 2009 – article on Donald Hinds, referencing Claudia Jones.
- "Claudia Jones The Black Woman that created London Carnival". YouTube video.
- Anna Clarke, "Remembering Claudia Jones, pioneer of the Notting Hill Carnival", The Telegraph, 26 September 2018.