Claudia Jones was born in Trinidad, a British colony. Her family moved to Harlem, New York, where, from age 9 she lived in conditions of extreme poverty. When Claudia was 12 her mother, a garment worker, died of exhaustion and poverty. ‘I couldn’t attend graduation classes because I didn’t have a dress. Our family was so poor. I cried for days.’
She worked as a sales girl and a factory worker. She saw that government measures directed against blacks also affected poor whites and so, when she was 18, she joined the American Communist Party. By 1941 she had become the National Director of the Young Communist League and devoted all her time to political work.
After the second world war came the McCarthyism period when the US government hounded, jailed and deported many blacks and communists for ‘un-American activities’, Claudia was imprisoned four times by the US government.
In prison she called on the United Nations to ‘investigate the manner in which immigrants in the United States are being treated by the United States Government. If we can be denied all rights and incarcerated in concentration camps, then trade unionists are next; then the Negro people, the Jewish people, all foreign-born, and progressives who love peace and cherish freedom will face bestiality and torment of fascism. Our fate is the fate of American democracy. Our fight is the fight of all opponents of fascist barbarism, of all who abhor war and desire peace.’
There were campaigns and protests for her release but she was eventually deported in 1955. She came to Britain and lived in Notting Hill in west London where she was active in campaigns to defend the black community during the riots against them of 1958, also protesting against the racist killing of Kelso Cochrane. She was one of the founders of the West Indian Workers and Students Association.
In 1958 she founded the black newspaper, the West Indian Gazette, a newspaper for the West Indian community in Britain which campaigned for an independent and united West Indies, justice for blacks in Britain and world peace. Claudia worked to create links between political campaigns and cutural actvities; she established the first ever West Indian Carnival in 1959, which continues to this day every year on the streets of Notting Hill.
Additional reading: Claudia Jones: A Biography