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This paper, written in 2012, grew out of a presentation I gave in 2010 on the panel “Radical Women of Color as Organic Intellectuals” at the Organization of American Historians conference in Washington, D.C.  I continued to work on it because I was fascinated by Claudia Jones and her newspaper: see “Finding Claudia Jones.”


Claudia Jones

Claudia Cumberbatch Jones

In 1955, the brilliant Communist leader and theoretician Claudia Jones was deported to the United Kingdom from the United States, a victim of the Smith Act trials of the McCarthy era. Forcibly separated from work, family, and friends, Jones arrived in London a stranger; virtually on her own, she made her way, and much more. As founding editor of The West Indian Gazette, Jones built an institution that played a crucial role in the establishment of a vibrant community among disparate and disadvantaged people.

Jones was born in Trinidad in 1915, immigrated to New York City with her family as a child of eight, and grew up in Harlem. When she was thirteen, her mother died of meningitis at the sewing machine in the factory where she worked. Claudia’s father, Charles Cumberbatch, struggled to support his four daughters with a variety of poorly-paid jobs, including custodial positions that provided housing, sometimes in unhealthy circumstances. When Claudia was sixteen she contracted TB, which she later attributed to their living conditions (Filardo 2005, 88). She graduated from Harlem’s Wadleigh High School in 1935, right into the Great Depression, and worked at a number of jobs (in sales, in a factory, in a laundry); none was satisfying or remunerative. Smart, energetic, and much too poor for college, Jones discovered an alternative higher education in which to study and then to address the issues of suffering and injustice that surrounded her. She began by listening to the speakers on Harlem street corners.

Twenty years later, Jones described her early attraction to the Communists, who impressed her because they made persuasive connections between the struggle against fascism overseas and the race and class oppression she experienced in her own life and her own country.[i] These were the years of Italian aggression against Ethiopia, and of the Scottsboro Boys, whose cause provided Communists in Harlem in the 1930s with their most important talking-point and helped to recruit Claudia Jones. In 1936 she joined the Party, where her energy, intelligence, and charisma were recognized; her new comrades put her to work and sent her back to school. Potential leaders, or “cadre,” were trained in Marxist-Leninist theory, in U.S. and world history as interpreted by the CP, in rhetoric and public speaking, and much more (Johnson 1997).[ii] Jones was a quick and eager student who found in the Party hard and satisfying work, close friends, and philosophical grounds for the remarkable optimism that always characterized her response to adversity. The Daily Worker of September 15, 1937, carried a picture of Jones addressing a large crowd at a rally in Madison Square Garden. She looks poised, intense, very young and very confident. At twenty-two, in just one year, she had moved far and fast.

Claudia Jones became an inspiring public speaker, an effective recruiter, and a skilled writer and editor. She was employed by the Daily Worker during World War II and took over its Negro Affairs Desk in 1945, when she also was elected to the National Committee of the Communist Party. She was a regular contributor to the CP theoretical journal Political Affairs, writing most often on the “Negro Question” and the “Woman Question” – issues of concern to herself as well as the Party after the war. Jones was closely associated with William Z. Foster and the left wing of the Communists, who triumphed in the late forties over Earl Browder’s less militant leadership (Hill 1998, 69). But the postwar years also brought the Cold War, the McCarthy era, and the trials, imprisonment, and deportation of Party leaders. Arrested, not for the first time, in 1951, Jones was tried and convicted along with twelve colleagues in 1953 and sentenced to a year and a day in Alderson Women’s Prison in West Virginia, to be followed by deportation.[iii] Released after ten months on grounds of ill health, she left the United States forever in December 1955. Her comrades, friends, and family said farewell at a huge party at Harlem’s Hotel Theresa, and those who could not attend sent best wishes: Paul Robeson’s message said “Claudia belongs to us, belongs to America” and placed her in the “heroic tradition of Harriet Tubman, of Sojourner Truth – the struggle for Negro liberation, for women’s rights, for human dignity and fulfillment.” Robeson was prescient: he predicted that his friend Claudia would “contribute greatly to that movement which has emerged so powerfully in our time – the colonial liberation struggles which are helping to remake the world before our eyes” (Robeson 1955).

When Claudia Jones disembarked from the Queen Elizabeth she took the boat train to London’s Victoria Station, where she was met by two friends with a motorbike. One was her cousin, Trevor Carter; the other was Billy Strachan, a Jamaican veteran of the RAF. Forty years later, Carter recalled that the three of them rode through the smog on a “motorcycle within a bit of a canvas thing like a tent” (Sherwood 1999, 189). Unlike most West Indians in London, Jones was accustomed to cold weather and large cities, but still it must have been a strange and intimidating arrival. She spent two months in the hospital during that first winter, and in a rare expression of unhappiness wrote to Stretch Johnson that “it is impossible to be both uprooted and ill” (Jones, 1956). When she left the hospital, unable to find housing she could afford, Jones stayed longer than was comfortable with fellow-deportees Mikki and Charlie Doyle. She wrote to Johnson, “the patient Doyles must themselves find new accommodations and just as I think ‘they have had enough’ with being hosts, so have I as a guest!” (Jones 1956). Her father died in the early summer of 1956, and she could not visit him in his final illness or attend his funeral. It must have been a dreadful year. Claudia was physically ill as well as homesick, missing her friends and grieving for her father, without enough money to live on or a home of her own. For the first time in her adult life, she also lacked useful or satisfying work.

During her first years in London, Jones was marginalized or ignored by the British Communists. The British Party (CPGB) was dominated by white men from the professions and trades unions who were not anxious to confront matters of race or enthusiastic about women leaders. According to Diane Langford,[iv] “the upper-class lawyers and academics (who) controlled the dowdy Communist Party of Great Britain” had no idea what to do with Jones. Neither did the “white working-class men (who) ran the grass roots labour movement in their own interests, which rarely included solidarity with oppressed peoples of the colonies and former colonies . . . Claudia’s sudden appearance among the left-wing beneficiaries of British imperialism was unsettling and challenging” (Langford 2007, 14).  A London neighbor, Gertrude Elias, wrote that when she asked Jones whether she was speaking on Party platforms around the country, Claudia gave a “bitter laugh” and said she was doing what she called “donkey work” at the Chinese News Agency, work presumably found for her by the CPGB. Elias also remarked that Jones did not have enough money for lunch (Elias 2006, 15).

In the late fifties, British Communists were not only ambivalent about colonial comrades; like Jones’s friends and former colleagues in the States, they were also distracted and dismayed by the implications of the Cold War and by dramatic events within the Soviet Union. In February 1956, just after Jones arrived in the U.K., Khrushchev made his famous “secret speech” to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. When the “secret” became public in April, its reverberations threw Communists everywhere into confusion and disorder. Khrushchev’s revelations about Stalin and Stalinism, followed later that year by the Soviet invasion of Hungary, provoked crises of conscience and concern all over the world. Many comrades, including old friends and co-workers of Claudia Jones, left the Party. There is no reason to believe that Jones ever considered such a move,[v] but the combination of the indifference of the CPGB and the circumstances of her new life in London produced a radical shift in her priorities.

From the boat train, Jones rode on the motorcycle with her friends through the capital city of a nation fraught with tension over questions of race, immigration, and citizenship. The center of a disintegrating world empire, London was just beginning to become aware and make attempts to deal with certain implications of imperialism – with the relationship of colonialism to race, for one, and with some of the consequences of the movement of people among the nations of Empire and Commonwealth. People of color had lived in Britain for hundreds of years, of course, and the service of thousands of West Indians and other colonial subjects was warmly welcomed during World War II. Their presence was not regarded or discussed as a “problem” until the late 1940s, when race, according to some scholars, “became politicized” (Lunn 1990, 161). These matters were on the minds of the Labour government elected in 1945 and headed by Clement Attlee. The new leaders, faced with the expectations of people whose wartime hardships and sacrifice had made them hungry for peacetime goods and comfort, understood their primary task to be rebuilding the shattered economy of the U.K. The entire imperial system was in jeopardy: many colonies were in rebellion, or at least determined to restructure their relationships to the Mother Country. There was a massive labor shortage at home, especially in industries essential to recovery such as coal mining, foundries, construction, health services, and agriculture. Displaced persons from the refugee centers of continental Europe provided a valued source of labor, but immigration from the colonies was needed as well, despite the perceived complications of color (Paul, 1997; Joshi and Carter, 1984).

In the islands of the British West Indies, jobs were advertised in transportation, health care, and other areas, and energetic job seekers began to respond. On June 21, 1948, the Empire Windrush landed at Tilbury from Jamaica with 492 passengers, almost all of them young men looking for work. Many had served with the Allied forces during the war and had reasonably comfortable memories of their time in England. The Windrush and “the Windrush generation” have become iconic in the history of Afro-Caribbeans in the U.K., and there is no question about the symbolic importance of the ship and its passengers, although opinions vary about its practical consequences.[vi] The new arrivals, those without friends or family to offer lodging, were housed in an underground air raid shelter and helped to find jobs. They were, after all, British subjects, legally entitled to travel and work in the U.K. Nevertheless, and despite the labor shortage, their arrival was seen as problematic in some quarters. Striking a note of outspoken racism, eleven MPs of Attlee’s own Labour Party wrote to the Prime Minister to express their concern: “The British people fortunately enjoy a profound unity without uniformity in their way of life and are blest by the absence of a colour racial problem. An influx of coloured people domiciled here is likely to impair the harmony, strength, and cohesion of our public and social life and cause discord and unhappiness among all concerned” (Webster 1998, 25).

Despite such anxieties, immigration from the islands was slow and slight until 1952, when the McCarran-Walter Act in the U.S. restricted the British quota to people from England and Scotland and Ireland (that is, to white people). Before that year, West Indians looking for work – like the parents of Claudia Jones twenty-five years earlier – were more inclined to go to the U.S., where in those days there were jobs as well as communities of islanders In Harlem and elsewhere. But even though the numbers were small, official Britain responded to the Windrush and later arrivals with a high degree of panic along with intermittent attempts to be helpful. Historians argue about whether the severe and sometimes violent racism of the mid and late 1950s was somehow endemic among the English “people” or stimulated, even created, by the government.[vii] Whatever the source, the reality made London a dismally unfriendly place for new arrivals from the Caribbean, Africa, India, and Pakistan. Those looking for lodging were greeted with signs saying “No Coloured,” or worse. Regardless of education and background they were almost never hired for white-collar jobs; the schools regarded their children as inherently difficult or educationally disabled, and mixed-race couples were met with hostility, and often with violence (Hinds 2008, 88-97).

West Indians in particular tended to be shocked and surprised by their reception. In 1966, Claudia Jones’s friend and colleague Donald Hinds published a book entitled, significantly, Journey to an Illusion: The West Indian in Britain; the first chapter is called “The Myth of the Mother Country.” In island schools England had been presented as “home,” and young men like Donald Hinds, who wanted to be writers, were taught to take Chaucer and Shakespeare as their idols: “history,” for them, was the history of the British Empire. Hinds interviewed a Londoner from Trinidad who told him “I was a white supremacist with a dark skin . . . My father (was) a headmaster (who) saw nothing wrong with the books we had to read – books which saw Trinidadians through the eyes of lesser-known English writers, who . . . wrote just what they learned at school. ‘Trinidad is black as Africa is black, and black is savage’ . . . Nobody seemed to think the colonial society was bad, rotten, geared to suit the needs of the white man. . . I had never questioned the wisdom of the British” (Hinds 1966, 10-11).[viii] Many, perhaps most West Indians entered the country with similar expectations and misapprehensions. Claudia Jones was extremely valuable to her London community in part because she did not share them. She was Trinidadian by birth, but she had grown up in the United States and had no illusions about racism.

The West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian News was Claudia Jones’s creation. She became editor-in-chief in 1958, and although the first issue was only a one-page flyer, it was on the streets in time to report on the worst season of race riots in London’s history. There had been earlier outbreaks of violence in Liverpool and Birmingham in 1948 and in the Camden area of London in 1954; by 1958, gangs of white youths were roaming the streets, threatening and sometimes attacking black people. The slogan KBW (“Keep Britain White”) became familiar graffiti on city walls. In the summer and early fall of that year there were larger outbreaks, accompanied and incited by cries of “Let’s lynch the niggers!” (Pilkington 1988, 114). On May 16, 1959, Kelso Cochrane, an Antiguan carpenter, was murdered by young white men in Notting Hill. The authorities, including Home Secretary R.A. Butler, treated the murder as an “incident,” blaming it on a robbery and denying its racial character (Pilkington, 151). The riots, the murder, and the apparent indifference of the police markedly increased West Indian distrust of British law and of those who were supposed to enforce it. The size and passion of Cochrane’s funeral, attended by more than a thousand mourners, signaled a beginning of rising consciousness and resistance. By that time, Claudia Jones and her Gazette were leaders and guides in the formation of a new community and a new movement.

Fifty years later Donald Hinds wrote “Looking back, it seems preposterous that the only coherent voice from the black community in Britain was a monthly paper that was so strapped for cash, it often could not find the 100 pounds needed to pay the printers” (Hinds 2008, 95). During its first five years the Gazette was published in what Hinds described as “two crowded, chaotic and untidy rooms above Theo Campbell’s record shop at 250 Brixton Road, south west London” (Sherwood 1995, 125). At one point the Klan, British version, vandalized the office and sent at least one threatening letter to the editor addressed to “My Dear Mr. B. Ape”(Glass 1960, 180). The Gazette struggled, but as early as 1960 it was described as “increasingly influential in drawing the different groups of newcomers from the Caribbean together” (Glass, 208). The paper never had a paid staff, but Jones’s charisma, along with the plight of West Indians, attracted such talented people as Donald Hinds, then a young Jamaican writer and bus conductor who served as the city reporter.[ix] During her entire tenure Jones tried vainly and strenuously to make the monthly Gazette a weekly: there was so much to cover!

The editor stated, clearly and frequently, the vast and ambitious mission of her paper. In October 1961 Jones wrote: “We oppose colonialism, we stand for unity of West Indians and Afro-Asian-Caribbean people; we stand for peace and disarmament and oppose nuclear weapons; we want to build friendship and understanding of all Commonwealth people and other world peoples, based on the recognition of equality and dignity of all peoples and nations. We originally stood for and still stand for a united West Indies . . .” These grand political and ideological commitments never faded or faltered, but local events rolled on too, demanding active response and community organization as well as coverage in the paper. Bill Schwarz, a historian of post-colonialism, asked a key question: “Where, during the key years of decolonization, could one find located in Britain an intellectual culture which explicitly drew upon Franz Fanon, Nelson Mandela, and James Baldwin, and upon the traditions exemplified by Presence africaine?” (Schwarz 2003, 264). The Gazette served many purposes during its brief existence, but in retrospect what was most remarkable was the linkage it provided between the day-to-day issues of immigrants from the islands and the global struggle against racism and colonialism. In news columns and editorials, the paper took up the cause of West Indian federation, the fight against apartheid in South Africa, the Civil Rights movement in the United States, and much more.

In June 1960, the lead editorial addressed events in Africa, particularly the freedom struggles in Nyasaland and South Africa. The editor reported on the speech by President Nkrumah of Ghana linking the recent French atomic bomb test in the Sahara with the Sharpeville Massacre, applauding his identification of the violence of nuclear weapons with that of apartheid. Jones also commented on the tone of the coverage of South Africa in the British press, castigating the attempts of “Fascist and reactionary elements . . . to divert the whole significance of the Africans’ struggle against apartheid” by emphasizing recent violence on the streets of Capetown [sic] and thus missing “the greater violence of apartheid – the corrupting and corruptible system of determining man’s relation to society on the basis of his skin colour.” She was always quick to point out the fallacies in stale old arguments against decolonizing “too fast.” In September 1960, writing about the Congo, she reminded readers that “under Belgian rule about ninety per cent of the Congolese were not allowed to receive any elementary education worth mentioning . . . the fact is that far from being unready for independence – the favorite cry of . . . colonialists and pro-colonialists . . . the Congolese people are today showing that they have long been ready and ripe for it.” In that same issue of the paper, right next to the editorial, is a picture of 1960’s Carnival Queen, wearing a bathing suit and enjoying her prize – a trip to Jamaica, courtesy of Grimaldi and Siosa Shipping Lines, a regular advertiser. The Gazette did not fear variety or worry about incongruity; every issue, and sometimes every page, featured thoughtful analyses of world events along with anecdotes and pictures of local people.

Jones did not neglect her old homeland. She praised the courage of civil rights workers in the States, and she took up the challenge of explaining the circumstances and strategies of the movement. An editorial of June 1961 titled “What Were the Negroes Doing in Church?,” unsigned but bearing Jones’s stamp and style, answered a question posed by “an indignant West Indian in our offices.” They went to church, Jones said, to listen to Martin Luther King, to sing fight songs (spirituals), and to act on their own behalf in a tradition of resistance dating back to John Brown, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth. The Gazette reported on the activities of the Freedom Riders in November 1961, along with a lengthy account by Julian Mayfield of recent violence, including an attack on Robert Williams of the NAACP. In June 1963 the newspaper co-sponsored a protest meeting in support of the struggle for civil rights in Alabama; Jones was one of the speakers. The paper ran a substantial article on the issues at stake, quoting President Kennedy on the continuing injustice of discrimination against Negroes, the Civil Rights Commission on “official brutality,” and Julian Bond on non-violence. Readers in the U.K. were provided with the Gazette’s interpretation of African American history and current events: while there had always been brave individuals who resisted oppression, there was now a movement which had “thrown into a cocked hat all the ‘theories’ and myths formerly held. The benevolent ‘They are like children; we must take care of them’ . . . and other similar defences behind which a highly profitable system of exploitation masks itself.” As always, Jones editorialized in global context – in this instance, quoting an Ethiopian newspaper on the “civilized apartheid” of the United States, and insisting that the U.S. fight “is an integral part of the national freedom upsurge which is taking place in Africa.” Jones met with Dr. King when he passed through London on his way to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo in 1963, and on August 31st of that year, in solidarity with the March on Washington, she led a march on the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square.

Jones kept in touch with events in the United States through private correspondence as well as public media. Halois Robinson, who had worked with Claudia for years in the States, wrote faithfully to her old friend, kept her informed about activities of mutual interest, and visited her in London in 1960. She kept trying to raise money for Jones from Party leaders, and more effectively, among a small group of women. After a difficult conversation with Benjamin Davis, who had been a close friend and colleague of Jones, Robinson described his attitude as dictatorial and unhelpful, but she went on to reassure Claudia that “you can count on us women to carry on to the extent we are able personally. Girl, do we miss you – the understatement of the year!” (Robinson 1956). Later she wrote to Jones that she had “ten dollars already which is only a drop in the bucket” (Robinson 1960).[x] She also persisted in trying to get Davis and others to help, with very little or no success. Davis’s own letters to Jones make it clear that the current struggles took all of the Party’s resources and his own energy (Davis 1956, 1957, 1958). Claudia Jones was not forgotten, but her needs held a low priority, and she had to depend on new friends and colleagues for companionship and support.

One of Jones’s new friends and co-workers was Abhimanyu Manchanda, known as Manu, an Indian Communist who shared her work and her life during her last years. Manu and his family had been displaced in the 1947 partition of India; while he was in London at a Socialist Youth Festival in the mid-50s a warrant was issued for his arrest at home. He never returned to India, and in 1956 became General Secretary of the London branch of the Indian Workers’ Association. Manu worked at the Gazette in many capacities, serving for most of the paper’s life as its Managing Editor. In March ’59 he complained to Jones that the business was not properly managed: “you have obstinately insisted to carry on in a very chaotic, most inefficient, uneconomic, unsystematic and un-businesslike working (sic). . . with the result the Company is under heavier debt every day.” He threatened to dissociate himself from the enterprise and to “get in touch with solicitors so that the necessary steps can be taken in this regard,” ending “Delivered personally by hand” (Manchanda, 1959).

These threats were never carried out; this was one episode in a long, difficult, affectionate relationship. Two years later Jones wrote to Manu about the division of responsibilities at the paper, agreeing to the “conditions you proposed in the pub this evening” about his future role and assignments. She urged him to accept responsibility for circulation and business management, declared complete confidence in his ability, and requested that “no personal matters be brought up in the office . . . For this can act as a demoralizing factor on those working with us . . .” She asked for scheduled meetings, proposed to have an office prepared for Manu (“I am making arrangements for the window to be opened and the place made habitable”), and added a hopeful paragraph about facing the paper’s problems, especially financial problems, squarely and without reference to the past. She regretted that earlier discussions “had more heat than light,” expressing the hope that “disagreements . . . be sorted out in a calm spirit of give-and-take . . . and lack of epithets.” She ended optimistically “I would sincerely hope that it is possible for us to finally agree and begin together to set the thing aright on a new basis” (Jones 1961). Her letter reveals much about conditions at the Gazette as well as the private lives of Claudia and Manu. However difficult their relationship, they had much in common, including Communist histories outside of the U.K. and tense or strained relationships with the CPGB. Diane Langford has written of Manu’s devotion to Claudia and respect for her memory, as well as the strength of the bond of outsider-status: the British Party did not “want colonial comrades playing a leading role in the British movement” (Langford 2007).

The Gazette was undercapitalized, understaffed, constantly in financial difficulties, and probably over-ambitious in its gallant attempt to cover almost everything. It was first of all a local paper, reporting in substantial detail the activities and interests of West Indians in the U.K. – especially those in London, although efforts were made to branch out into communities outside the capital. Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Barbadians, and others arrived in the U.K. from islands that were culturally diverse and geographically distant; they did not think of themselves as “West Indians” until they left home. The cultural theorist Stuart Hall wrote “I became a West Indian in London . . . before that I was Jamaican.”   He amended this later, saying “I became black in London, not Kingston” (Schwarz 2002, 92). The immigrants were linked by their circumstances in the U.K. – by skin color, as reflected back by their English neighbors, and by shared difficulties of housing and employment. In a remarkably short time, the Gazette became one of the very few institutions that served all and brought them together. The paper drew them in with news of their situation in the “mother country,” but also with news of home. It served those who remained at home, as well. Arguing, as usual, for the need to make the monthly a weekly, Jones editorialized in October 1961 about a West Indian teacher who forwarded to the paper his students’ question: “Why can’t we study ourselves?” The Gazette gave strenuous support to the short-lived Federation and reported on elections in Trinidad, a typhoid outbreak in St. Lucia, landslides in Grenada, and a new airport for Dominica – all this on one page of one issue in November 1961. On the same page were ads for Caribbean foods, hair stylists, and cruise lines.

From the cluttered offices of the West Indian Gazette, Claudia Jones kept all this going. She herself wrote a great many articles and editorials, theater and book reviews, political columns and special features. Among the latter is a remarkable account of a night she spent in Notting Hill Police Station in July, 1962. She was driving home from a party with two friends when the police stopped the car and arrested the driver, saying “We’re taking you in for drunken driving.” Fearful for her friend because of reports of police abuse of black people, Jones insisted on accompanying him to the station, where she waited while he was examined by a police doctor, cleared of charges, and finally set free.   His wife waited in the car, where a Pakistani student kept her company – “a sign of our growing solidarity of Afro-Asian-Caribbean community.” Meanwhile, Jones kept reminding the officers of her own name and position, and she handed out copies of the Gazette. Her account of this adventure included a quoted comment from the Chief Inspector,, who said he was sorry that “your people . . . live in the slums among what you would call ‘white trash.’” Jones responded “And the lunatic fringe, Inspector . . . The fascists and the racialists.” She asked readers to consider a crucial question: what would have happened “if some poor bloke or West Indian, African or Pakistani without any unity or support behind him had been arrested? She ended the story with a familiar reminder: “This is another reason why we need a weekly WIG . . .”

For Londoners from the islands, the crowded rooms on Brixton Road served as an employment agency, a counseling service, a complaint bureau, and a social center. West Indian immigrants poured in and told their stories to willing ears, providing the editor and her staff with close, on-the-ground familiarity with the community they served. For people far from home, the Gazette became also a family. When Donald Hinds got married in May 1961, the editor herself reported on the wedding, describing the cake and the bride’s dress and listing the attendants. An article of the same month entitled “A Day With the West Indian Gazette” repeated some of the tales of Theo Campbell, owner of the record store downstairs, who not only covered sports for the paper but also regaled visitors with stories of the postwar years in London. He described, for example, his landlady’s insistence that he leave the house early in the morning and return late, to escape the notice of her (white) tenants and neighbors. After all, she said, “you will appreciate that we must take the necessary precautions.” Apparently, at least according to this article, the staff appreciated all the coming and going and storytelling; however disrupted, it created “fraternity in exile.”

The origins of London’s Carnival can be traced directly to Claudia Jones’s efforts to raise money for her paper and hearten her community. The first Carnival was held in 1959 in midwinter, the traditional season for such festivities in the Caribbean; for obvious reasons, in London it was held indoors (at St. Pancras Town Hall). That initial gathering, sponsored by the West Indian Gazette, offered light and hope during the grim winter between the riots of summer 1958 and the murder of Kelso Cochrane in the spring of ’59. The paper sponsored a Carnival every winter until Jones died at Christmas 1964; that winter’s celebration was cancelled on account of her death. The next Carnival, in the summer of ’65, was held outdoors at the site of the murder in Notting Hill, which has been its locale ever since. Forty-five years later, Carnival has become a massive event with more than a million participants. Although the title has been contested, most of these acknowledge Jones as the “Mother of Carnival” (Sherwood 1999, 204-215).

In the souvenir program of January 1959, in a statement entitled “A People’s Art is the Genesis of Their Freedom,” Jones set forth her vision of Carnival. She wrote of a “pride in being West Indian,” and of “the transplant(ation) of our folk origins to British soil . . .” She named the riots of the previous summer as a crucial root of the festival, “the event of Notting Hill . . . which was the matrix binding West Indians in the United Kingdom together as never before – determined that such happenings should not recur.” Her brief statement included a push for Federation, a reminder of the recent terror with an accompanying call for resistance, a persuasive argument for the powerful connections of politics and culture, and a promise to make Carnival an annual event.   Jones, who was “post-colonial” before the invention of the term, insisted on the importance of spreading Caribbean cultural influence throughout the Commonwealth and proclaimed “the brotherhood and unity of West Indians and other peoples of colour” (Boyce Davies 2007, 189).

In the tradition of the Gazette and its editor, a wide variety of local interests were incorporated in an event designed to appeal to the widest possible public. Calypso artists from Trinidad, parades, steel bands, exotic costumes, and beauty contests were all part of the celebration. Donald Hinds remembers that it was “part of (his) job to interview the carnival queens; (and that he) always looked forward to it” (Sherwood, 209). The judges of the beauty contests were prominent figures, including Essie Robeson, the playwright John Osborne, the actress Joan Littlewood, and the Guyanese novelist Andrew Salkey (Sherwood, 151). On the political side, Mr. Garnet Gordon C.B.E., Q.C., Commissioner for the West Indies, British Guiana, and British Honduras crowned the Queen in 1960. In December 1959, the Gazette sought sponsors for a cruise for the Queen to one of the new African states: Ghana, Guinea, or Nigeria. Like everything organized by Claudia Jones, all aspects of Carnival, including the beauty contests, had international political significance.

Jones’s last big fight, the battle against the Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1962, illustrates several of the ways she worked. The Act reversed earlier policies of free and unrestricted immigration from Commonwealth countries by requiring entrants from the islands (and from Africa and the Asian sub-continent) to show proof of employment. Jones called it the “Colour Bar Bill” and editorialized in November 1961 that despite the government’s pretense that the Act applied to all immigrants, everyone knew that it “applies solely and primarily to prevent the entry . . . of coloured citizens.” By excepting Canada, Australia, and the Irish Republic from its provisions, it was “nakedly revealed (as) an official colour bar against the coloured and the poor.” The Gazette campaigned loudly and persistently against the Act, and Jones stated in a BBC interview that it was racist in design and intention.[xi] On the activist side, the paper led street protests in opposition.

On another front in the war against the Immigration Act, Jones published an article in Freedomways, the magazine that replaced Paul Robeson’s Freedom as a vehicle of reflection and protest by and for the black community. In this article – which turned out, tragically, to be her last publication outside the Gazette – Jones wrote about West Indians in the U.K. and the implications for them of the “Colour Bar Bill.” Beginning with an account of the rapid growth of the Caribbean community in England, she placed large-scale emigration in the context of desperate economic conditions in the islands. She called such emigration “a palliative, a stop-gap measure to ease colonial-capitalist-imperialist relations, the wealth of these islands is dominated by the few, with the vast majority of people living under unbearable conditions” (Jones 1964, 342). Jones lamented the lost West Indian Federation, which might have offered hope to people in their own homelands. She denounced the Tory government in scathing language, and as always, placed local events and circumstances and policies within a global framework: “That the Tory colour-bar Commonwealth Immigrants Bill has been enacted at the same time when apartheid and racism is under attack through the world from the African heads of state at Addis Ababa, to the half million Civil Rights March on Washington, from the United Nations, and world criticism of South Africa and the demand for economic sanctions . . . bespeak the fantastic blindness of Britain’s Tory rulers even to Britain’s own national interests” (Jones 1964a, 348). She left no doubt about the underlying reason for the Act, whatever the surrounding rhetoric: “The pious and hypocritical sentimentality accompanying (its) passage was further exposed when the Tory legislators removed the non-Commonwealth Irish Republic from (its) provisions” (345). Jones brought to bear on her analysis of the Act and her several protests against its passage all her experience of the interlocking oppressions of racism, colonialism, and global capitalism.

During the last years of her own life and the life of the newspaper, Jones finally received a passport as well as several invitations to travel overseas. In 1962 she visited the Soviet Union as a guest of the editors of the magazine Soviet Woman. Reporting on her journey in the Gazette in December 1962, she wrote that the visit fulfilled a long-held wish to see for herself the social, cultural, and technological achievements of a Communist state: “I was curious,” she wrote, “to see a land which I already knew abhorred racial discrimination to the extent of making it a legal crime and where the equality of all people is a recognized axiom.” She visited schools and factories, and she spoke to a large crowd of Russian children, “among the happiest children I have seen anywhere.” According to Jones, they were happy because their families were happy, free of the “worried frowns” on the faces of parents in England. Rents were cheap, education was available to all, and “no apprehension hangs over the head of a mother who gets post and pre-natal time off amounting to three months all with pay.” This was no surprise to the loyal Communist editor of the Gazette, who reminded readers that “all of this was possible because of the Socialist ownership of the means of production (or ownership of the resources of the nation in common by the people).”

Claudia Jones’s last journey, lengthy and enormously interesting to her, must also have been exhausting. She visited Japan in the summer of 1964 as a delegate to the World Conference Against Hydrogen and Atom Bombs, and travelled on to China in the late summer and fall of that year. There she felt privileged to witness socialist transformation while it was actually taking place. In poetry as well as prose, she praised the character and achievements of the Chinese people, which she described in her poem “Yenan – Cradle of the Revolution”:

No idle dreamers these
Who fashioned from soil
Of centuries, crude weapons,
To lead in armed uprising . . .
No idle dreamers these – and yet they dared to dream.[xii]

As she had in the U.S.S.R., Jones fell ill while she was away from home, and characteristically, she used that unpleasant experience as another opportunity to learn about her host society. She wrote to Manu that she “found myself indisposed with a cold and temperature which landed me into hospital . . . (which) is extremely efficient modern and the medical staff tops” (Jones 1964b).

Jones had a habit of mailing postcards to herself as souvenirs of her travels; she sent one from China in October, 1964: “Once again . . . I post a card to myself – if only to see how human flight outspans material things like postcards! Yet it is the intangibles of this momentous visit – my first to Asia – that I will remember long after memory of its ancient Pagodas and other art objects become dim”(Jones 1964b). She did not live long to remember even the intangibles: Claudia Jones died alone in her apartment at Christmas 1964, shortly before her fiftieth birthday. Her friends and comrades, organized by Manu, buried her ashes next to the huge bust of Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery. Her memory was almost lost in the United States during the McCarthy years; it survives most vividly today in her adopted community in London, among the survivors, descendants, and admirers of “the Windrush generation.”


ENDNOTES

[i] The major source for Jones’s childhood and youth is an autobiographical letter written to William Z. Foster in 1955, when she was deported (Filardo 2005).. Such statements, semi-official Party documents, were required of cadre at significant turning-points. Formulaic in certain respects, the letter still provides most of what we know of Jones’s early life.

[ii] Describing the training of “cadre,” Claudia’s friend Howard (“Stretch”) Johnson said he worked harder and learned more in six months at the Communists’ Camp Beacon than in four years at Columbia (Johnson 1997).

[iii] Jones applied for U.S. citizenship in 1940, but her application was never acted upon, leaving her vulnerable not only to prosecution as a Communist under the Smith Act but as an alien under the McCarran Act. She was scheduled originally for deportation to Trinidad, but because of her illnesses and hospitalizations in prison, her lawyers arranged to have her sentence reduced and for “voluntary departure” to the U.K.

[iv] Diane Langford came to London from New Zealand in the 1960s and participated in many left-wing groups and activities. She was married in the 1970s to Abhimanyu Manchanda, who was Jones’s companion and colleague during her last years, and at his death became the custodian of Jones’s papers, most of which were deposited in the Schomburg Center (Jones Collection) in 2001.

[v] Unfortunately, we have almost no information about Jones’s reaction to these events. Her friend Halois Robinson wrote to her that “There’s a lot of lively discussion, needless to say, growing out of the 20th Party Congress. Some good and some kind of befuddled at the moment. The one thing, however, we must guard against is turning handsprings from one extreme to another.” Later in the same letter she said “Things are in a mess and the biggest hurdle will be maintaining unity if we are to safeguard all we’ve sweated for over the years” (Robinson 1956).

[vi] A useful starting-place in the huge bibliography of the Windrush, its passengers, and the thirty years of settlement that followed is Phillips and Phillips, 1998.

[vii] Harold Macmillan’s memoir reveals much about his own attitude and that of several others. He referred to the events of 1958 as “so-called race riots” and reported that “While my colleagues and I were still struggling against the rising tide of wages, we were almost immersed by an equally troublesome phenomenon – the sudden influx of immigrants, especially from the New Commonwealth countries . . . in 1954 the number of coloured immigrants entering the United Kingdom increased fourfold over 1953 . . . I remember that Churchill, rather maliciously, observed that perhaps the cry of ‘Keep Britain White’ might be a good slogan for the Election which we should soon have to fight without the benefit of his leadership” (Macmillan 1973, 73).

[viii] Similarly, Derek Walcott wrote “. . . like any colonial child I was taught English literature as my natural inheritance. Forget the snow and the daffodils. They were real, more real than the heat and the oleander . . .”(Schwartz 2002, 89).

[ix] Hinds wrote “Ken Kelly and I were the principal reporters, but we rarely ventured outside London. We were trappers rather than hunters of news. We would wait for newsworthy personalities to stop off in London . . . my biggest catch was James Baldwin . . .” (Hinds 2008, 94). Hinds says of Jones “She was my mentor and she still is” (E-mail to author 2005).

[x] Robinson mentioned Lorraine Hansberry (an old friend of Jones) and the current gossip, circulated when Raisin in the Sun succeeded on Broadway, “about her folks being slum landlords. . . Of course this may certainly not keep her from throwing something your way” (Robinson 1960).

[xi] The interview is available on line at http://www.understandingslavery.com/citizen/explore/routes/gallery/?id=3773

[xii] The entire poem is available in the Jones Collection.


WORKS CITED

Boyce Davies, Carole. 2008. Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones. Durham, N.C: Duke University Press.

Davis, Benjamin J. Letters. Schomburg Center.

Elias, Gertrude. 1993. “The Suspect Generation.” Black and Asian Studies Newsletter 44 (2006): 15-17.

Filardo, Peter, ed. 2005. “Dear Comrade Foster: The Following is the Autobiographical (Personal, Political, Medical) History that I Promised . . . Comradely, Claudia Jones (December 6, 1955).” American Communist History 4: 85-93.

Glass, Ruth. 1960. Newcomers: The West Indians in London. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.

Hill, Rebecca. 1998. “Fosterites and Feminists, Or 1950s Ultra-Leftists and the Invention of AmerKKKa.” New Left Review 228: 67-84.

Hinds, Donald.

  • 1966. Journey to an Illusion: The West Indian in Britain. London: Heinemann.
  • 2005. E-mail to author.
  • 2008. “The West Indian Gazette: Claudia Jones and the Black Press in Britain” in Race and Class 50: 88-97.

Johnson, Howard (“Stretch”). 1997. Videotape: symposium. Schomburg Center.

Jones, Claudia. 1956, 1959, 1961, 1964b. Letters, postcard. In Claudia Jones Memorial Collection, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

  1. http://www.understandingslavery.com/citizen/explore/routes/gallery/?id=3773

1964a. “The Caribbean Community in Britain.” Freedomways 4: 341-357.

Joshi, Shirley, and Bob Carter. 1984. “The Role of Labour in the Creation of a Racist Britain.”   Race and Class 25: 53-66.

Langford, Diane. 2007. “The Manchanda Connection.” Unpublished manuscript.

Lunn, Kenneth. 1990. “The British State and Immigration, 1945-51: New Light on the Empire Windrush.” In Politics of Marginality, eds. Tony Kushner and K. Lunn. London: Frank Cass: 161-174.

Macmillan, Harold. 1973. At the End of the Day. New York: Harper & Row.

Manchanda, Abhimanyu. 1959. Letter. Jones Collection.

Paul, Kathleen. 1997. Whitewashing Britain: Race and Citizenship in the Postwar Era. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press.

Phillips, Mike, and Trevor Phillips. 1998. Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi-Racial Britain. London: HarperCollins.

Pilkington, Edward. 1988. Beyond the Mother Country: West Indians and the Notting Hill White Riots. London: Tauris.

Robeson, Paul. 1955. Typescript of message. Jones Collection.

Robinson, Halois Moorhead. 1956, 1960. Letters. Jones Collection.

Schwarz, Bill. 2002. “Unspeakable Histories: Diasporic Lives in Old England.” In Philosophies of Race and Ethnicity. Eds. Osborne, Peter, and Stella Sandford. London: Continuum: 81-96.

  1. “Claudia Jones and the West Indian Gazette: Reflections on the Emergence of Post-Colonial Britain.” Twentieth-Century British History 14: 264-285.

Sherwood, Marika, ed. 1999. Claudia Jones: A Life in Exile. London: Lawrence & Wishart.

Webster, Wendy. 1998. Imagining Home: Gender, “Race,” and National Identity, 1945-64. Bristol PA: UCL Press.

West Indian Gazette. 1959-1965. Institute of Race Relations, London.

2 thoughts on ““A Pride in Being West Indian”: Claudia Jones and The West Indian Gazette (2012 Paper)

  1. Pingback: Coming of Age in the 1950s All Over Again | The Oldest Vocation

  2. Pingback: Finding Claudia Jones | The Oldest Vocation

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