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|Born||Claudia Vera Cumberbatch|
21 February 1915
Belmont, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
|Died||24 December 1964 (aged 49)|
|Resting place||Highgate Cemetery|
|Other names||Claudia Cumberbatch Jones|
|Known for||Founder 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 charge(s)||Charged under the McCarran Act|
|Criminal penalty||Imprisonment and eventual deportation to the United Kingdom|
|Relatives||Trevor Carter (cousin)|
Claudia Jones, née Claudia Vera 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 (CPGB), and would remain a member for the rest of her life. She then founded Britain’s first major black newspaper the West Indian Gazette (WIG) 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 tuberculosis caused irreparable damaged 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.
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 organization of women into mass organizations, 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 Political Affairs magazine 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.