Claudia Jones was a leading figure in London’s Caribbean community from 1955 until her early death in 1964. She founded The West Indian Gazette, and is known as ‘the mother of the Notting Hill Carnival’.
Jones was born in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, in 1915, when Trinidad was still a British colony. When she was eight, she moved with her parents and three sisters to Harlem, New York. Living in impoverished conditions, Claudia caught tuberculosis and had to drop out of school in 1932. For the rest of her life she suffered from damaged lungs and heart disease.
Jones stayed in New York from 1923 to 1955. In 1936, she became an active member of the American Communist Party. At the time, Black issues were still neglected in mainstream politics. The Communist Party, with its ethos of social equality, offered a voice for those fighting for Black civil rights.
Claudia Jones was a talented journalist and by the late 1940s she had become the editor of ‘Negro Affairs’ for the party’s paper, The Daily Worker. An elected member of the National Committee of the Communist Party, she also organised and spoke at events.
In 1948, she was arrested for her political activities and sentenced to the first of four spells in prison. Finally, following a year in the Alderson Federal Reformatory for Women, Jones was deported. She was refused entry to Trinidad and, in 1955, was granted asylum in England.
In London, Claudia Jones became a leader in the emerging. Black equal rights movement. Post-war migration from the Caribbean had caused tensions in the City Many West Indians suffered from prejudice in housing and employment. At the time, there was no legislation making it illegal to discriminate on the ground of colour.
In 1958, Jones founded the West Indian Gazette, the first newspaper printed in London for the Black community. It provided a forum for discussion of civil rights as well as reporting news that was overlooked by the mainstream media. Claudia worked as editor on the paper until her death, encouraging the most talented Black writers of the time to contribute to it.
WEST INDIAN GAZETTE
Courtesy of Lambeth Council: The West Indian Gazette was founded by the black leader and freedom fighter, Claudia Jones, in 1958. Her broad-based interest in world politics and charismatic personality raised the tone of the subjects covered and the calibre of both the contributing journalists and the people they interviewed. Claudia’s style of reportage increased the social and political awareness of the growing number of Black and Asian peoples in Britain, with in-depth articles on issues such as the MP Fenner Brockway’s stand on the Bill dealing with racial discrimination. The gazette was to close down six months after her death on December 25th, 1964. Front page of West Indian Gazette, Vol.5, No9, April19631992/16
One of Jones’ best-known legacies is the annual Notting Hill Carnival. She helped launch the event as a response to the 1958 riots, when tensions had turned violent as racist mobs attacked local Black residents. Using the West Indian tradition of carnival, the event was intended to create closer relations between all local communities. The first carnival was held in January 1959 in a local hall.
In the early 1960s, despite failing health, Jones helped organise campaigns against the 1962 Immigration Act. This had made it harder for non-Whites to migrate to Britain. She also campaigned for the release of Nelson Mandela, and spoke out against racism in the workplace.
Claudia Jones died of a heart attack on Christmas Eve 1964, aged just 48. She was buried in Highgate cemetery next to the grave of Karl Marx.