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Claudia Jones (1915-1964)

Claudia Jones

Claudia was born in Trinidad, a British colony, in a well-to-do family. The post World War I economic crisis forced their family to migrate to the U.S. in search of a better life. They settled in Harlem, New York in 1922. Claudia’s mother Sybil worked in the garment industry, but she died 5 years later due to overwork, exhaustion and poor living condition. With the onset of the Great Depression of the 1930s, Claudia’s father, Charles lost his job as an editor of a West Indian newspaper. He was forced to work as a low-wage janitor in an apartment. He too died early and left Claudia and her siblings alone. Claudia contracted tuberculosis due to the families’ miserable condition and damaged her lungs permanently which haunted her for the rest of her life.

She was a brilliant student, but because of poverty she was not able to continue her education. Thus, she worked as a sales girl and a factory worker as long as her health allowed it. At the workplace, Claudia experienced the sweatshop labour of capitalism and witnessed the government measures directed against blacks, poor whites and especially women of the minorities.

The unwavering support of the U.S. Communist Party of workers and oppressed peoples persuaded Claudia to join the party. She became an ardent activist and campaigner for the establishment of human rights, immigrant rights, women and minority rights and of course workers rights. She became a voice for socialism.

Claudia was imprisoned several times by the U.S. government. During the era of McCarthyism she along with many prominent figures was jailed for “Un-American-Activities”. In 1955, when she was nearly dying of tuberculosis, the U.S. government deported her to Trinidad; but, due to the refusal of entry of that colonial government, she sought asylum in England.

Claudia’s life in exile was very fruitful and productive. She organized blacks and poor peoples’ struggles against existing discrimination and racism in that country. She founded and edited ‘The West Indian Gazette”, a campaigning black newspaper. She also became active in the British Communist Party and organized campaigns for the release of Nelson Mandela. She was invited to the Soviet Union for medical attention and to China to meet with MaoTse Tung.

In response to the Notting Hill riots in London against discrimination and racism, she worked to create links between political campaigns and cultural activities; for doing this she established the first ever West Indian Carnival in 1959, which now has become the Notting Hill Carnival of London, the biggest street party in Europe. That is why in the U.K. people call Claudia, “The Mother of Notting Hill Carnival”.

Claudia Jones was a journalist, a political activist, and a community leader. By struggle against injustice she made her and others miserable lives colourful and shiny. Her short but amazing life came to an end at the age of 49, and was buried in the Highgate cemetery, London next to Karl Marx.

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