Claudia Jones


Claudia Jones
Claudia Jones
Born Claudia Cumberbatch Jones
February 15, 1915(1915-02-15)
Belmont, Port of Spain, Trinidad
Died December 24, 1964(1964-12-24) (aged 49)
London, England
Occupation Journalist
Nationality Trinidadian
Years active 1936-1964

Claudia Cumberbatch Jones (15 February 1915—24 December 1964) was a Trinidadian journalist, who applied her skills to becoming a political activist and black nationalist through Communisum.

After her family emmigrated to New York City when she was aged 9, she graduated from high school, and then trained as a journalist. Deported from the United States as a result of communist political activism during the period of McCarthyism political witch hunts, she eventually found a base in London, England. There she founded and organised various black nationalist activities, including the Notting Hill Carnival. She is buried in Highgate Cemetery, next to and left of her hero, Karl Marx.[1]

Contents

Early life

Born in Belmont, Port of Spain, Trinidad, aged nine her family were economically motivated to emigrate to Harlem, New York City, by 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 went on to win the Theodore Roosevelt Award for Good Citizenship at her junior high school. Due to poor living conditions, in 1932 she was struck with tuberculosis, a condition that irreparably damaged her lungs and plagued her for the rest of her life. Although she gained enough credits to graduate, her family were so poor that they could not afford to attend the ceremony.[1]

United States career

Despite being accademically bright, classed as an immigrant women her career choices were severely limited, and so instead of going to college Jones began working in a laundry, followed later by 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.[2]

In 1936, in light of trying to find organisations supporting the Scottsboro Boys, she joined the American Communist Party (ACP). As a result, in 1937 she joined the editorial staff of the Daily Worker, rising by 1938 to became 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. Post war, Jones became executive secretary of the National Women's Commission, secretary for the Women's Commission of the CPUSA, and in 1952 took the same position at the National Peace Commission. In 1953, she took over the editorship of Negro Affairs.[3]

An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!

Jones' most well known piece of writing, "An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!" appeared in 1949 in Political Affairs, and today is collected in several anthologies. It exhibits Jones' development of what would decades later come to be termed "intersectional" analysis within a Marxist framework. In it, Jones wrote:[4]

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

Post World War II, during the period referred to at the time as the Second Red Scare, or today popularly known as "McCarthyism" after its most famous supporter and namesake, Senator Joseph McCarthy; United States popular fear rose of communist espionage consequent to a Soviet Eastern Europe, the Berlin Blockade (1948–49), the Chinese Civil War, and the confessions of spying for the Soviet Union given by several high-ranking U.S. government officials, and the Korean War.[3]

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.[5] Incarcerated on Ellis Island, she was threatened with being deported to Trinidad, which was then still a Crown Colony.

In 1951, aged only 36, she suffered her first heart attack in prison.[3] That same year, she was tried and convicted with 11 others of "un-American activities",[6] specifically communist activities against the people of the United States under the Smith Act, alongside her friend Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.[1] The Supreme Court refused to hear their appeal against conviction. In 1955, Jones began her sentence of a year and a day at the Federal Reformatory for Women at Alderson, West Virginia, after which she was scheduled to be deported.[3]

Refused entry to Trinidad and Tobago, in part because the British colonial governor Major General Sir Hubert Elvin Rance refused to have her on the grounds that "she may prove troublesome",[6] and in part that as she had been resident in the United States so long that she technically had equal US citizenship; she was eventually offered on humanitarian grounds residency within the United Kingdom. Now able to be served with a deportation order, on 7 December 1955 at Harlem's Hotel Theresa, 350 people met at a social gathering (she was banned from parties) to say farewell to Jones.[3]

United Kingdom career

Arriving in London two weeks later, Jones arrived at the time of the build 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.[7]

Activism

At a time in England when many landlords, shops and even some government establishments displayed signs which said "No Irish, No Blacks", Jones landed in a country with a community which needed active organisation.[6] 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.[5]

Supported by her friends Trevor Carter, Nadia Cattouse, Amy Ashwood Garvey, Beryl Macburnie, Pearl Prescod and her life long 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 Tse Tung.[8]

In the early 1960s, despite failing health, Jones helped organise campaigns against the 1962 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.[5]

The West Indian Gazette And Afro-Asian Caribbean News

From her experiences in the United States, Jones knew that "people without a voice were as lambs to the slaughter."[8] Therefore, in 1958 above a Barber's shop in Brixton,[6] she founded and thereafter edited the anti-imperialist, anti-racist paper, The West Indian Gazette And Afro-Asian Caribbean News (WIG).[9] The paper became a key contributor to the rise of consciousness within the Black British community.[8]

Jones wrote in her last published essay, The Caribbean Community in Britain, in Freedomways:[10]

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 own death, in December 1964.[3]

Notting Hill Carnival

Jones's most well-known lasting contribution in the UK is the Notting Hill Carnival. Four months after launching WIG, racial riots broke out in Nottinghill, 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.[2]

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 Allfrey and Carl La Corbinière of the West Indian Federation.[3]

As a result, Jones identified the need to "wash the taste of Notting Hill and Nottingham out of our mouths". To which it was suggested, that the British black community should have a carnival; it was December 1958, to which 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, which headlined the Boscoe Holder Dance Troupe, jazz guitarist Fitzroy Coleman and singer Cleo Laine;[2] 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".[2]

Funds raised from the event were used to pay the court fees and fines of convicted young black men.[10]

Death

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.[6]

Her funeral on 9 January, 1965, was a large and political ceremony, with her burial plot selected to be that to the left of her hero, Karl Marx, in Highgate Cemetery, North London. A message from Paul Robeson was read out:[6]

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.

Legacy

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.

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

See also

References

  • Davies, Carole Boyce, Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones Duke University Press, 2007 ISBN 0822341166
  • Guy-Sheftall, Beverley, Words of Fire: an Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought The New Press, 1995
  • Hinds, Donald & Prescot, Colin & Sherwood, Marika, Claudia Jones: A Life in Exile Lawrence & Wishart, 2000
  • Marable, Manning & Mullings, Leith, 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 Left of the Color Line: Race, Radicalism and 20th Century United States Literature eds. Bill V. Mullin and James Smethurst (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003)

Notes

  1. ^ a b c Boyce Davies, Carole Left of Karl Marx: the Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones (Duke University Press, 2007)
  2. ^ a b c d Lauren Ashi. "“A people’s art is the genesis of their freedom” – Claudia Jones". catchavibe.co.uk. http://www.catchavibe.co.uk/%E2%80%9Ca-peoples-art-is-the-genesis-of-their-freedom%E2%80%9D-%E2%80%93-claudia-jones/. Retrieved 30 October 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Donald Hinds (3 July 2008). "Claudia Jones and the "West Indian Gazette"". Race & Class. http://www.irr.org.uk/2008/july/ha000007.html. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  4. ^ in Marable, Manning and Mullings, Leith, Let Nobody Turn Us Around (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009)
  5. ^ a b c "Claudia Jones". Black History Month. http://www.blackhistorymonthuk.co.uk/features/claudia_jones.html. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Hassan Mahamdallie (13 October 2004). "Claudia Jones". Socialist Worker. http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=2868. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  7. ^ "Caludia Jones". BBC Radio 4. http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/womanshour/timeline/claudia_jones.shtml. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  8. ^ a b c SHANGO BAKU. "CLAUDIA JONES REMEMBERED". ITZ Caribbean. http://www.itzcaribbean.com/claudia_jones_carnival.php. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  9. ^ 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)
  10. ^ a b www.blackpast.org

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