About Claudia Jones
Claudia Jones is remembered for being a visionary and pioneer who dedicated her life to the struggle for workers and equal rights in the 20th century. While much of her early work as a feminist, Black Nationalist, political activist, community leader, journalist and communist, which was done in the USA, she is also remembered in the UK as ‘the mother of Notting Hill Carnival’.
Jones was born in was born in Belmont, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad in 1915. As a result of the post-war cocoa price crash, when she was eight years old, she moved to Harlem, New York. Her mother died five years later and her father eventually found worked to support the family.
She went on to win the Theodore Roosevelt Award for Good Citizenship at her junior high school, however due to her poor living conditions she was struck with tuberculosis in 1932. This was a condition that irreparably damaged her lungs, and was and was plagued by it for the rest of her life.
She lived in New York for almost 30 years, she became an active member of local Communist politics, and in 1941, at the age of 25, she become the National Director of the YCL. By 1948 Jones had been elected to the National Committee of the Communist Party of the USA and become the editor of ‘Negro Affairs’ for the party’s paper the Daily Worker.
Soon she had become an experienced public speaker on human and civil rights, giving speeches to increasingly large crowds. She travelled around the country to attend various political events, however soon her activities and rousing speeches began to attract the attention of the authorities. This was at a time when the US was experiencing the McCarthy witch-hunts and anti-communist hysteria, which is now known as McCarthyism.
In total she was arrested and imprisoned four times by the US government. In 1955 she was deported from the US, and given asylum in England. In London during the late 1950’s the cultural and social pressures were coming to a head. Racist gangs and supporters of Oswald Moseley’s White Defence League were leading attacks on members of the Afro caribbean community. In May 1958 tensions reached a new high, which resulted in the Notting Hill riots, and the murder of a young Antiguan man, Kelso Cochrane (by six white men who have never been charged).
Claudia became very active in the campaigns to defend the Black community and involved herself in local politics, as well as joining the British Communist party. She founded and edited The West Indian Gazette which was a strong vehicle for her ongoing campaign for equal opportunities for black people. She was embraced by the Afro Caribbean community in London, and become one of the most charismatic Black leaders of her day.
Claudia Jones lasting contribution in the UK is the Notting Hill carnival. In 1959 she helped to launch ‘Mardi-Gras’ celebrations, an annual showcase for Afro Caribbean talent. These early events were held in halls and were epitomised by the slogan, ‘A people’s art is the genesis of their freedom’. These celebrations grew in popularity each year, to the record numbers of attendance we see today.
Claudia Jones died in 1964 aged just 49, Christmas Day, brought on by a heart condition and tuberculosis. She died alone and broke, and it was around 48 hours before her body was discovered. She is buried in Highgate Cemetery next to Karl Marx. Throughout her life, which was dogged by struggle and illness she maintained a constant vision for working-class people all over the world, although her contributions have gone largely unacknowledged.
Recommended reading: Claudia Jones
Claudia Jones: a life in exile (Lawrence & Wishart, 2000)
The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones Carole Boyce Davies