Women's Activism NYC

Claudia Jones

1915 - 1964

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was a Trinidad-born journalist and activist. As a child she migrated with her family to the US, where she became a political activist and black nationalist through Communism, using the false name Jones as "self-protective disinformation". As a result of her political activities, she was deported in 1955 and subsequently resided in the United Kingdom. She founded Britain's first major black newspaper, West Indian Gazette (WIG), in 1958. Despite being academically bright, classed as an immigrant woman she was severely limited in her career choices, and so instead of going to college Jones began working in a laundry, and subsequently found other retail work in Harlem. During this time she joined a drama group, and began to write a column called "Claudia Comments" for a Harlem journal. In 1937 she joined the editorial staff of the Daily Worker, rising by 1938 to become editor of the Weekly Review. After the Young Communist League became American Youth for Democracy during World War II, Jones became editor of its monthly journal, Spotlight. After the war, Jones became executive secretary of the Women's National Commission, secretary for the Women's Commission of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), and in 1952 took the same position at the National Peace Council. In 1953, she took over the editorship of Negro Affairs. As a member of the Communist Party USA and a black national feminist, Jones identified with black women's oppression, known as triple oppression. Her ideology consisted of a conceptualization of race, class, and gender within a Marxist lens. Her focus was on "an anti-imperialist coalition, managed by working-class leadership, fueled by the involvement of women." However, Jones was often considered more radical than Marx because she did not believe that capitalism was the only oppressor contributing to sexism and racism. The Communist Party often failed to acknowledge women's difficulty in finding and securing work, in which Jones focused on growing the party's support for black and white women. She sought job training programs, equal pay for equal work, government controls on food prices and funding for wartime childcare programs. Jones supported a subcommittee to address the "women's question." She insisted on development in the party on theoretical training of women comrades, organization of women into mass organizations, daytime classes for women, and "babysitter" funds to allow women's activism. Jones' best known piece of writing, "An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!", appeared in 1949 in the magazine Political Affairs. It exhibits her development of what later came to be termed "intersectional" analysis within a Marxist framework. An elected member of the National Committee of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), Jones also organised and spoke at events. As a result of her membership of CPUSA and various associated activities, in 1948 she was arrested and sentenced to the first of four spells in prison. Incarcerated on Ellis Island, she was threatened with deportation to Trinidad. Following a hearing by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, she was found in violation of the McCarran Act for being an alien (non-US citizen) who had joined the Communist Party. She was ordered to be deported on 21 December 1950. She was refused entry to Trinidad and Tobago, in part because the British colonial governor Major General Sir Hubert Elvin Rance considered that "she may prove troublesome". She was eventually offered residency in the United Kingdom on humanitarian grounds. She became involved in the British African-Caribbean community to organize both access to basic facilities, as well as the early movement for equal rights. In the early 1960s, her health failing, Jones helped organize campaigns against the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill (passed in April 1962), which would make 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. Jones died on Christmas Eve 1964, aged 49, and was found on Christmas Day at her flat. A post-mortem declared that she had suffered a massive heart attack, due to heart disease and tuberculosis. At her funeral a message from Paul Robeson was read out, “It was a great privilege to have known Claudia Jones. She was a vigorous and courageous leader of the Communist Party of the United States, and was very active in the work for the unity of white and colored peoples and for dignity and equality, especially for the Negro people and for women.”

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