February 21 - Happy Birthday, Claudia Jones

Posted on February 21, 2018

The power of a poor, sickly, immigrant black woman...

...It seems that there wouldn't be much power for such a person, doesn't it? But Claudia Jones (born Claudia Cumberbatch) didn't let the hardships of her life and others' bigotry stop her from being heard and read.

Claudia Jones was born in Trinidad on this date in 1915. Trinidad is an island off the coast of Venezuela, in South America; it is generally considered to be one of the Caribbean islands.

As a child she came with her family to the U.S. Her family was very poor, and her mother died early. Unfortunately, Jones was the victim of tuberculosis, a disease that permanently damaged her lungs.

Jones was bright and performed well academically, but after graduating from high school, she had very few options open to her. She worked in a laundry and a few stores - but she also joined a drama group and the Communist Party - and she began to write!

As a young adult, Jones wrote a column for a Harlem newspaper. Later she became the editor of several journals, and she wrote magazine articles. She was one of the people who first used what is now called "intersectional analysis," which means looking at the complexity of belonging to several different oppressed groups - like being a poor, immigrant black woman.

Jones organized events and gave speeches, as well as wrote and edited. And she kept speaking up even though she was imprisoned - she suffered a heart attack in prison at age 36 - and threatened with deportation.

Eventually, Jones was deported. She went to London, capital of the United Kingdom, where she found...more bigotry!

This was in late 1955 and early 1956. The Communist Party in the U.K. didn't want to hear from a black woman. There were signs that read "No Irish, no coloured, no dogs."

So Jones got to work. Again. She got involved in the British African-Caribbean community. She began to organize for equal rights. She spoke at peace rallies. She worked on getting rid of racism in the workplace. She campaigned for the release of South African icon Nelson Mandela. She campaigned against a bigoted immigration law. She worked for workers' rights. She founded Britain's first major black newspaper.
Jones was even able to travel to Japan, Russia, and China.

She had a remarkable life - but too short of a life. At age 49, she had a massive heart attack and died.

But her words live on:

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