Claudia Vera Cumberbatch
21 February 1915
|Died||24 December 1964 (aged 49)|
|Resting place||Highgate Cemetery|
|Other names||Claudia Cumberbatch Jones|
|Known for||Organiser of 1959 Caribbean Carnival event, precursor of the Notting Hill Carnival.|
Founder of Britain's first major black community newspaper. Communist activism.
|Political party||Communist Party USA,|
Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB)
|Criminal charges||Charged under the McCarran Act|
|Criminal penalty||Imprisonment and eventual deportation to the United Kingdom|
|Relatives||Trevor Carter (cousin)|
Claudia Vera Jones (née Cumberbatch; 21 February 1915 – 24 December 1964) was a Trinidad and Tobago-born journalist and activist. As a child, she migrated with her family to the US, where she became a Communist political activist, feminist and black nationalist, adopting the name Jones as "self-protective disinformation". Due to the political persecution of Communists in the US, she was deported in 1955 and subsequently lived in the United Kingdom. Upon arriving in the UK, she immediately joined the Communist Party of Great Britain and would remain a member for the rest of her life. She then founded Britain's first major black newspaper, the West Indian Gazette, in 1958, and played a central role in founding the Notting Hill Carnival, the second-largest annual carnival in the world.
Claudia Vera Cumberbatch was born in Trinidad, then a colony of the British Empire, on 21 February 1915. When she was eight 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 in Harlem, she was struck with tuberculosis at the age of 17. The disease caused irreparable damage to her lungs leading to lengthy stays in hospitals throughout her life. She graduated from high school, but her family could not afford the expenses to attend her graduation ceremony. Jones joined the Young Communist League (YCL) in 1936 after hearing the Communist Party's defense of the Scottsboro Boys. She went on to work on the YCL's newspaper, later becoming state education director and chairperson for the YCL.
United States career
Despite being academically bright, being classed as an immigrant woman severely limited Jones' career choices. Instead of going to college she 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. The American communist movement's opposition to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, was another factor which prompted Jones to join the communists. 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 nationalist and feminist, Jones' main focus was on creating "an anti-imperialist coalition, managed by working-class leadership, fueled by the involvement of women."
Jones focused on growing the party's support for black and white women. Not only did she work towards getting Black women equal respect within the party, Jones also worked for getting Black women specifically respect in being a mother, worker, and woman. She campaigned for 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 the development in the party of theoretical training of women comrades, the organisation of women into mass organisations, daytime classes for women, and "babysitter" funds to allow for 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, 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 charges against Jones related to an article she had written for the magazine Political Affairs under the title "Women in the Struggle for Peace and Security". 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 colonial governor Major General Sir Hubert Elvin Rance was of the opinion 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 activism
Jones arrived in London two weeks later, at a time when the British African-Caribbean community was expanding. Upon her arrival, the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) sent several Caribbean communists to greet her. These communist activists included Billy Strachan, Winston Pinder, and Jones's cousin Trevor Carter. However, on engaging the political community in the UK, she was disappointed to find that many British communists were hostile to a black woman. She immediately joined the CPGB upon her arrival in Britain and remained a member until her death.
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 cousin Trevor Carter, and her friends 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 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, the Notting Hill race riots occurred, as well as similar disturbances in Robin Hood Chase, Nottingham. In view of the racially driven analysis of these events by the existing 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, Claudia 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 with the Boscoe Holder Dance Troupe, jazz guitarist Fitzroy Coleman and singer Cleo Laine headlining; 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.
Jones died in London on Christmas Eve 1964, aged 49, and was found on Christmas Day at her flat. A post-mortem declared that she had suffered a massive heart attack, due to heart disease and tuberculosis.
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.
In the 1950s, Jones published a column called "Half of the World" in the Daily Worker newspaper.
- "Discussion Article", Political Affairs (August 1943)
- "For New Approaches to Our Work among Women", Political Affairs (August 1948)
- "Women Crusade for Peace," The Worker Magazine (1950)
- "100 Women's Delegates Back World Peace Plea", Daily Worker (1950)
- "International Women's Day and the Struggle for Peace", Political Affairs (March 1950)
- "Claudia Jones Writes from Ellis Island", Daily Worker (8 November 1950)
- "For the Unity of Women in the Case of Peace", Political Affairs (1951)
- "Warmakers Fear America's Women," Daily Worker (1951)
- "For the Unity of Women in the Cause of Peace!", Political Affairs (February 1951)
- "Foster’s Political and Theoretical Guidance to Our Work among Women", Political Affairs (March 1951)
- "Call Negro Women to Sojourn for Justice", Daily Worker (20 September 1951)
- "Sojourners for Truth and Justice", The Worker Magazine (1952)
- "The Struggle for Peace in the United States", Political Affairs (1952))
- "Her Words Rang Out beyond the Walls of the Courthouse", Daily Worker (21 November 1952)
- "American Imperialism and the British West Indies", Political Affairs (April 1958)
- "The Caribbean Community in Britain", Freedomways (1964)
- "First Lady of the World: I Talk with Mme Sun Yat–Sen", West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News (November 1964)
- "An End to the Neglect of the Problems of Negro Women, June 1949", Political Affairs (March 1974)
- Book chapters
- "Claudia Jones," Communists Speak to the Court (1953)
- Autobiographical History (6 December 1955 – unpublished)
- Claudia Jones: Beyond Containment: Autobiographical Reflections, Essays, and Poems (2011)
Legacy and influence
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.
She is the subject of a documentary film by Z. Nia Reynolds, Looking for Claudia Jones (2010).
In 2018 Jones was named by the Evening Standard on a list of 14 "Inspirational black British women throughout history" (alongside Phillis Wheatley, Mary Seacole, Adelaide Hall, Margaret Busby, Olive Morris, Connie Mark, Joan Armatrading, Tessa Sanderson, Doreen Lawrence, Maggie Aderin-Pocock, Sharon White, Malorie Blackman, Diane Abbott and Zadie Smith).
Bustle magazine included Jones on a list of "7 Black British Women Throughout History That Deserve To Be Household Names In 2019", together with Mary Prince, Evelyn Dove, Olive Morris, Margaret Busby, Olivette Otele, and Shirley Thompson.
Many British communists have argued that her participation in the British communist movement has been both obscured and denied by organisations keen to use her image.
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.
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.
- Trevor Carter
- Billy Strachan
- Len Johnson
- Dorothy Kuya
- Paul Robeson
- Buzz Johnson
- Communist Party of the USA
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- Boyce Davies, Carole (2007). Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones. Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-4116-1.
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- Dunstan, Sarah; Owens, Patricia (2021). "Claudia Jones, International Thinker". Modern Intellectual History. 19 (2): 551–574. doi:10.1017/S1479244321000093. ISSN 1479-2443. S2CID 234864146.
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- Lindsey, Lydia (2019). "Red Monday: The Silencing of Claudia Jones in 20th Century Feminist Revolutionary Thought". The Journal of Intersectionality. 3 (1): 10–20. doi:10.13169/jinte.3.1.0010. ISSN 2515-2114.
- Vesuna, Alexander (4 February 2022). "Silencing the Radical Black Feminist: A Book Review of Left of Karl Marx by Carol Boyce Davies". Caribbean Quilt. University of Toronto. 6 (2): 84. doi:10.33137/cq.v6i2.37009. ISSN 1929-235X.
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- Mohammed, Sagal (25 July 2020). "Marxist, Feminist, Revolutionary: Remembering Notting Hill Carnival Founder Claudia Jones". Vogue. Condé Nast.
- 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.
- "Ouster Ordered of Claudia Jones; Hearing Officer Finds Her an Alien Who Became Member of Communist Party Alien Registration Affidavit Additional Charge Sustained" (PDF). The New York Times. 22 December 1950. Retrieved 27 June 2012. (subscription required)
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- "Claudia Jones Loses; Communist Facing Ouster Is Denied Stay to Aid Charney" (PDF). The New York Times. 10 November 1955. Retrieved 27 June 2012. (subscription required)
- "Red Agrees to Leave Country" (PDF). The New York Times. 18 November 1955. Retrieved 27 June 2012. (subscription required)
- "Claudia Jones". Woman's Hour. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 29 October 2011.
- "Claudia Jones". Black History Month. Archived from the original on 19 October 2016. Retrieved 29 October 2011.
- Baku, Shango. "Claudia Jones Remembered". ITZ Caribbean. Archived from the original on 7 April 2012. Retrieved 29 October 2011.
- Schwarz, Bill (2003). "'Claudia Jones and the West Indian Gazette': Reflections on the Emergence of Post-colonial Britain". Twentieth Century British History. 14 (3): 264–285. doi:10.1093/tcbh/14.3.264. ISSN 0955-2359.
- "West Indian Gazette cover July 1962". Lambeth Landmark. 31 January 2018.
- Thomson, Ian (29 August 2009). "Here To Stay". The Guardian.
- Jones, Claudia, "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)". Black History Pages. Archived from the original on 3 January 2018.
- "City Air Makes One Free". The City Speaks | Staden Talar.
- Funk, Ray. "Notting Hill Carnival: Mas and the mother country". Caribbean Beat. No. 100.
- "History: 1959 – Elements of Caribbean Carnival". Notting Hill Carnival '14. Archived from the original on 11 July 2014.
- Notes, "(1954) Edric Connor & The Caribbeans – Songs from Jamaica", folkcatalogue.
- Ashi, Lauren. ""A people's art is the genesis of their freedom" – Claudia Jones". catchavibe.co.uk. Archived from the original on 26 January 2012. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
- Blagrove Jr, Ishmahil (7 August 2014). "Notting Hill Carnival — the untold story". London Evening Standard.
- Edwards, Rhiannon (5 October 2012). "Claudia Jones celebrated at Highgate Cemetery". Ham & High. Archived from the original on 23 March 2014.
- Jones, Claudia; Flynn, Elizabeth Gurley (1953). Communists Speak to the Court: Thirteen Communists Speak to the Court. New Century Publishers. pp. 19–26. Retrieved 14 January 2022.
- Jones, Claudia (2011). Carole Boyce Davies (ed.). Claudia Jones: Beyond Containment: Autobiographical Reflections, Essays, and Poems. Ayebia Clarke Publishing Limited. ISBN 9780956240163. LCCN 2011489968. Afterword by Alrick X. Cambridge.
- "National Union of Journalists (NUJ): Claudia Jones memorial lecture". www.nuj.org.uk.
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- Peacock, D. Keith (1999). "Chapter 9: So People Know We're Here: Black Theatre in Britain". Thatcher's Theatre: British Theatre and Drama in the Eighties. Greenwood Press. p. 179. ISBN 9780313299018. ISSN 0163-3821.
- "100 Great Black Britons – 100 Nominees". 100 Great Black Britons.
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- "Claudia Jones Blue Plaque unveiled". ITZ Caribbean. 22 August 2008.
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- "The Notting Hill Carnival on stamps", The British Postal Museum & Archive blog, 27 August 2010.
- "Looking for Claudia Jones trailer", Blackstock Films, 2010.
- Chambers, Georgia (11 October 2018). "Inspirational black British women throughout history". London Evening Standard.
- Arboine, Niellah (8 March 2019). "7 Black British Women Throughout History That Deserve To Be Household Names In 2019". Bustle.
- Armitstead, Claire (27 April 2021). "'I wanted to capture the joy': J'Ouvert writer Yasmin Joseph on bringing Europe's biggest carnival to the stage". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 April 2022.
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- Soriano, Kathleen (13 September 2021). "Landmark on Sky Arts: The South | Art UK". artuk.org. Retrieved 14 September 2021.
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- 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
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- Carole Boyce Davies, Claudia Jones: Beyond Containment, Ayebia Clarke Publishing, 2011. ISBN 978-0956240163.
- Clarke, Camryn S. (2017). Escaping the Master's House: Claudia Jones & The Black Marxist Feminist Tradition. Senior Theses and Projects (Thesis). Hartford, Connecticut: Senior Theses, Trinity College – via Senior Theses and Projects, Trinity College Digital Repository.
- Gore, Dayo. Radicalism at the Crossroads: African American Women Activists in the Cold War. NYU Press, 2011.
- de Haan, Francisca (2013). "Eugénie Cotton, Pak Chong-ae, and Claudia Jones: Rethinking Transnational Feminism and International Politics". Journal of Women's History. 25 (4): 174–189. doi:10.1353/jowh.2013.0055. ISSN 1527-2036. S2CID 201794308.
- 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.
- List of 100 great black Britons Archived 13 March 2021 at the Wayback Machine
- "Claudia Jones", Exploring 20th Century London.
- "Mother of the Mas", biodata for Claudia Cumberbatch Jones, Fox Carnival Band.
- Subversives: Stories from the Red Scare. Lesson by Ursula Wolfe-Rocca at the Zinn Education Project (Claudia Jones is featured in this lesson).
- Ian Thomson, "Here To Stay", 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 Daily Telegraph, 26 September 2018.