Claudia Jones was born Claudia Vera Cumberbatch in Trinidad and Tobago on February 21, 1915. She emigrated with her family to the United States when she was nine years old, after the price of cocoa devastated the economy of the islands. She was an excellent student, but was poor, so poor in fact that her family could not afford to attend her high school graduation ceremony. She also suffered from tuberculosis, which damaged her lungs permanently and was directly attributable to her poor living conditions and class.
After graduation from high school, Jones was unable to go to college, so she was forced to take a job in a laundromat and other retail positions in Harlem. Nevertheless, she used her keen intellect to take up a writing position in a local journal. She became active in the Harlem branch of the National Urban League, and in 1936, Jones joined the Young Communist League of the US, rising to become editor of the Weekly Review and joining the editorial staff of The Daily Worker.
In 1949, Jones released her most renowned piece, “An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman”. She wrote:
“The bourgeoisie is fearful of the militancy of the Negro woman, and for good reason. The capitalists know, far better than many progressives seem to know, that once Negro women begin to take action, the militancy of the whole Negro people, and thus of the anti-imperialist coalition, is greatly enhanced. Historically, the Negro woman has been the guardian, the protector, of the Negro family…. As mother, as Negro, and as worker, the Negro woman fights against the wiping out of the Negro family, against the Jim Crow ghetto existence which destroys the health, morale, and very life of millions of her sisters, brothers, and children.”
This was the beginning of what many would later call an “intersectional” analysis and a contribution to the treasury of working women’s feminist theory and practice. Jones was also an elected member of the National Committee of the Communist Party of the United States, which attracted the attention of federal authorities; she subsequently was arrested and sentenced to prison in 1948.
On December 21, 1950, Jones was ordered to be deported. While in prison, Jones suffered a heart attack. In 1955, over 300 people gathered at the famous Hotel Theresa in Harlem to see her off. She was refused entry to Trinidad and Tobago, her homeland, but she was allowed residency in the United Kingdom.
In the UK, she began organizing in the growing Afro-Caribbean community, which was expanding with the need for workers to replace those lost in World War II and to rebuild devastated infrastructure after the massive German bombing raids of the 1940s. She campaigned against discrimination in housing, employment, access to healthcare, and education, along with addressing peace rallies and leading protests in various forms.
She also traveled to China, where she met Chairman Mao Zedong. In 1958, Jones founded the West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News, which was a pivotal anti-imperialist, anti-racist paper. She also played a major role in the establishment of what would become the famous celebration of Afro-Caribbean culture, the Notting Hill Carnival.
Jones died on Christmas Eve in 1964 as a result of a massive heart attack in her apartment. She was buried to the left of Karl Marx in London’s Highgate Cemetery, a fitting tribute and resting place for this hero of the working class and working women in particular.