Monday, October 15, 2007

Claudia Jones (1915-1964), a Fighter in the Struggle Against National, Gender and Class Oppression

Claudia Jones (1915-1964)

Historically, the Negro Woman, has been the guardian, the protector, of the Negro family. From the days of the slave traders down to the present, the Negro woman has had the responsibility of caring for the needs of the family, of shielding it from the blows of Jim Crow insults, of rearing children in an atmosphere of lynch terror, segregation and police brutality, and of fighting for an education for the children. The intensified oppression of the Negro people, which has been the hallmark of the post-war reactionary offensive, cannot therefore but lead to an acceleration of the militancy of the Negro woman.

—Claudia Jones, An End to the Neglect of the Problems of Negro Women

Anyone who knows anything of history knows that great social changes are impossible without the feminine ferment.
—Karl Marx

Born in Belmont, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, she emigrated with her family in 1924 at the age of eight to the USA, where poverty and racism led her to develop a race and class consciousness which, in turn, inspired her lifelong dedication to the progress of socialism and the liberation of black people. Like Queen Mother Moore, she joined the movement to free the Scottsboro Boys and while working with the Scottsboro Defense Committee, became associated with the Communist Party, which she readily joined.

By 1948, she had been elected to the Committee of the Communist Party of USA and was editor for Negro Affairs on the Daily Worker, the party's newspaper. She became an acknowledged leader and served as an inspiration to communist women.

Concerned with black nationalism as well as socialism, Claudia Jones became the standard bearer for Negro women, especially domestic workers. She denounced and attacked the triple oppression of sex, race, and class faced by black women. In her famous essay, An End to the Neglect of the Problems of Negro Women, she denounced both black and white male chauvinism, and chided white women for aiding and abetting these attitudes and abdicating their responsibility to black women. In the essay, she extrapolated the plight and treatment of black domestic workers to that of black women as a whole.

She was chiefly concerned with the oppression of black women and the roles assigned to them. Viewing sexism as another form of fascism, she set out to "inspire the growing struggles of American women and heighten their consciousness of the need for militant united front campaigns around the burning issues of the day, against monopoly capitalism, against war and fascism." On the radical potential of black women, she asserted that " the capitalists know, far better than many progressives seem to know, that once Negro women undertake action, the militancy of the whole Negro people, and thus of the anti-imperialist coalition, is greatly enhanced."

In 1948, during the McCarthy era, she was arrested, convicted for "advocating overthrow of Government" in violation of the Smith Act, and was imprisoned at the Alderson Federal Reformatory for Women. In prison, she petitioned 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."

Against the backdrop of McCarthyism, Claudia Jones was deported to Britain shortly after her release from Alderson, much to the relief of the colonial government in Trinidad.

In 1956, she arrived in London where she continued the revolutionary struggle, becoming part of the British Communist Party. In 1958 she founded and edited the West Indian Gazette (and Afro-Asian Caribbean News), the first Black newspaper in Britain, declaring that she was "... determined to continue this journal as a non-party peoples' organization, supporting struggles all over the world, against imperialism, against racism and fascism, for friendship among all peoples based on freedom, equality and human dignity." The struggle for world peace took her to the USSR, Japan, and China.

She organized many events and was actively involved in many campaigns in the black community. In 1958, racial violence, similar to the racial conflict happening in the American South, Rhodesia, and South Africa at the time, rocked Britain in the Notting Hill district of London. Claudia Jones was a member of the Committee, which was organized to develop an agenda to present the race problem to the government.

In 1959, she organized the first of six indoor Carnivals under the slogan "A people's art is the genesis of their freedom." This first Mardi Gras celebration was in direct response to the Notting Hill riots as it was designed "to present West Indian talent to the public, which at that time could not see Caribbean people as anything other than hewers of wood and drawers of water. " Unfortunately, Jones did not live to see her creation evolve into the Notting Hill Carnival, which is regarded as Europe's largest street festival today.

Claudia Jones, who spent her life campaigning against racist oppression, class hierarchy, and the roles assigned to women, died in London on Christmas Day, 1964. She is buried in Highgate Cemetery in a grave next to Karl Marx.

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