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Sun, 02.21.1915

Claudia Jones, Pan-African Nationalist born

Claudia Jones

*Claudia Jones was born on this date in 1915.  She was a Black Caribbean journalist and activist.  Born Claudia Vera Cumberbatch, she was from Trinidad.  

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.  In 1932, she was struck with tuberculosis, a condition that damaged her lungs and plagued her for the rest of her life. She graduated from high school, but her family could not afford the expenses to attend her graduation ceremony.

Despite being academically bright, she was classed as an immigrant woman severely limited Jones' career choice. Instead of going to college, she began working in the laundry and 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 organizations 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.  In 1953, she took over the editorship of Negro Affairs

As a member of the Communist Party USA and a black nationalist and feminist, Jones focused on creating "an anti-imperialist coalition, managed by working-class leadership, fueled by the involvement of women."  As the Communist Party had failed to acknowledge women's difficulty securing work, Jones focused on growing the party's support for Black and white women. 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 organization of women into mass organizations, daytime classes for women, and "babysitter" funds to allow for women's activism. 

Jones' best-known piece of writing, "An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!", appeared in 1949 in Political Affairs magazine. 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.”  As a result of her membership in 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.   She was deported on December 21, 1950. 

In 1951, in prison, she suffered her first heart attack.  That same year, she was tried and convicted with 11 others of "un-American activities" under the Smith Act.  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. She was eventually offered a residency in the United Kingdom on humanitarian grounds, and federal authorities agreed to allow it when she agreed to cease contesting her deportation.  On December 7, 1955, at Harlem's Hotel Theresa, 350 people met to see her off.  Jones arrived in London two weeks later when the British African-Caribbean community expanded.

Upon engaging the political community in the UK, she was disappointed to find that many British communists were hostile to a Black woman.  She became involved in the British African-Caribbean community to organize access to basic facilities and the early movement for equal rights.  Supported by her friends Trevor Carter, Nadia Cattouse, Amy E. 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 March 1958, above a barber's shop in Brixton, she founded and 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 served as a catalyst, quickening the social and political awareness of West Indians, Afro-Asians, and their friends. Its editorial stand is for a united, independent West Indies, full economic, social and political equality, respect for human dignity for West Indians and Afro-Asians in Britain, and peace and friendship between all Commonwealth and world peoples.   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.  

Given the racially driven analysis of these events by the existing daily newspapers, Jones began receiving visits from members of the black British community and various national leaders responding to the concern of their citizens.  As a result, Claudia 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; the event was televised nationally by the BBC.  Jones and the West Indian Gazette organized five other annual indoor Caribbean Carnival cabarets at such London venues as Seymour Hall, Porchester Hall, and the Lyceum Ballroom, which are seen as precursors of the celebration of Caribbean Carnival that culminated in the Notting Hill Carnival.  In the early 1960s, her health failing, Jones helped organize campaigns against the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, making 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.  Jones wrote in her last published essay, "The Caribbean Community in Britain," in Freedomways (Summer 1964).  WIG folded eight months and four editions after Jones's death in December 1964.  Claudia Jones died on Christmas Eve, 1964, aged 49.  Her funeral on January 9, 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. 

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