Claudia Jones Social Activist
Claudia Vera Cumberbatch was born on February 21st, 1915 in Belmont, Port of Spain, Trinidad. In 1924 the Cumberbatch family moved to New York in search of a better life; the coca trade declined in the West Indies leaving families in poverty. The Cumberbatch family settled in Harlem, New York where Jones would attend Wadleigh High School in 1930. Tragedy struck the family as Claudia’s mother Sybil died of spinal meningitis in 1933 at the young age of 37. Two years later Jones would graduate high school despite the adversity her family faced. Though Jones’ family loved her, they were too poor to attend her high school graduation.
Jones and her family were classified as immigrants and lived in poverty; both labels were seen as roadblocks and limited their access to information and career choices. She began working for a laundry service and in retail instead of attending college; little did she know her life would change very soon. While searching for her place in life Jones joined a drama group, she also began writing a column called “Claudia’s Comments” for a local journal in Harlem. In 1936, searching for organizations who were in support of the Scottsboro Boys, she became a member of the Young Communist League America. In 1937 she became a part of the editorial staff of the Daily Worker, until she became the editor of the Weekly Review in 1938. Jones would later become the editor of Spotlight, the journal for the American Youth for Democracy, formally the Young Communist League America. Shortly after World War II she became the secretary for organizations such as the Women’s National Commission, the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), and the National Peace Counsel in 1952. While serving as the secretary of the National Peace Counsel Jones became the editor of the editorial Negro Affairs.
The most well-known piece of writing published by Jones was titled, “An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!” The piece appeared in the Political Affairs Magazine in 1949; one of Jones’ most famous excerpts stated; “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;” because of her views Jones was label a “Marxist” and “intersectional.” Later Jones and the CPUSA began organizing speaking engagements throughout the country, their activities would causes suspicion and eventually lead to her incarceration in 1948. While incarcerated Jones was faced with deportation for violating the McCarran Act. They were suspected of attempting to install a totalitarian dictatorship. Several witness testified against her and she was a self-identified member of the party since 1936, she was found guilty and ordered to serve prison time and face deportation in 1950.
In 1951, at the age of 36 Jones was imprisoned where she suffered her first heart attack. Adding insult to injury Jones was later found guilty along with others for violating the Smith Act, her conviction was labeled was activities against the government. They were refused an appeal by the Supreme Court and Jones served a year and a day long prison sentence in West Virginia. In 1955 she was released from prison but was still facing deportation from the United States. British colonial governor Major General Sir Hubert Elvin Rance refused to allow Jones entry into Trinidad & Tobago; he considered her to be a problem. Jones was ultimately allowed to reside in the United Kingdom on a benevolent basis, as long as she agreed to no longer challenge her deportation.
She arrived in London on December 21st 1955, at this time the British African-Caribbean Community was expanding. She was eager to find individuals in London who shared her political party views; what she learned was black women in London were not treated well by the Communist. Racial discrimination and segregation plagued the streets of London summarily to what Jones experienced in Harlem. She quickly realized that the African-Caribbean communities lacked unity; she took action by becoming active within the African-Caribbean community, helping the members to gain access to resources and human rights. Jones gained the support of many influential people such as Paul Robeson as she fought the structural racism inflicted upon her people. She opposed the Trade Union Congress vigorously; her message took her to countries such as Japan and Russia fighting against inequality. In the 1960’s Jones would lead a campaign against the 1867 Immigration Act; the act places unequal treatment on non-white immigrants entering the United Kingdom.
On December 24th 1964 Claudia Jones died at the age of 49 due to a heart attack. She was buried in London in a burial plot next to Karl Marx who she was very fond of. Jones was named one of Britain’s 100 Great Black Britain’s in 2003. She was more than just a woman; Claudia Jones was a force to be reckoned with. She fought for the freedom and equality of black people on two continents, endured tragedy and setbacks, but still found the will to continue to press on. Claudia Jones, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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