February 21, 1915 – December 24, 1964
Claudia Cumberbatch was born in Trinidad and at the age of nine migrated with her family to Harlem. Over the next ten years, she would endure several personal losses and setbacks, including the death of her mother due to harsh work conditions, dropping out of school, and contracting tuberculosis. The poor living conditions of her youth would not only affect Cumberbatch mentally for the rest of her life but also physically due to lung damage caused by tuberculosis as well as a severe heart condition.
The combination of having dropped out of school and being an immigrant limited life and career options for Cumberbatch. As a result, she worked in a variety of retail and service jobs in Harlem. But, she eventually began writing for a local paper and social causes.
At the age of 18, Cumberbatch became involved with the case of the Scottsboro Boys. She joined the Young Communist League’s journal and wrote legal defense articles about their case. It was around this time that Cumberbatch began using the surname “Jones” as an alias due to her communist ties.
During World War II Jones became the editor of Spotlight, a monthly journal published by the American Youth for Democracy (formerly the Young Communist League). She also joined various other communist organizations after the war. Her activities as a communist brought her to the attention of the U.S. government and she was arrested in 1948 and again in 1951.
Jones was charged with violating various Acts by advocating for the overthrow of the government. She was convicted and sentenced to one year and one day in prison as well as a $2000 fine. At the age of 38 while serving her sentence Jones suffered a heart attack which was likely caused by the stress of her court case.
Despite serving her time and being a legal resident, as a foreign-born person, Jones still faced the possibility of deportation upon her release. England reluctantly offered her asylum as they did not want to deal with her possibly becoming involved with organizing efforts that were already underway in Trinidad.
A group of supporters campaigned against her deportation while Jones was still imprisoned. But, by the time of her release Jones’ health had deteriorated to the point where she would be unable to endure lengthy legal proceedings. As part of an agreement, Claudia Jones was voluntarily deported to England in 1955.
Though relatively short, Claudia Jones would spend the rest of her life in England despite arriving in the country amid anti-immigrant sentiments. She again picked up the mantle of journalism as activism and launched the West Indian Gazette, a Black newspaper that gave voice to London’s Caribbean community. To inspire Black unity while also easing tensions, Jones founded the Notting Hill Carnival. Unfortunately, she would succumb to her health issues at the relatively young age of 49 leaving a legacy of activism and cultural celebration.
- Christian, Tanya A. 2019. “Black History Legacy: Before ‘Intersectionality’ Was A Word, There Was Claudia Jones.” Essence. February 11, 2019. https://www.essence.com/black-history-month-2019/black-history-legacy-before-intersectionality-was-a-word-there-was-claudia-jones.
- Clarke, Anna. 2018. “Remembering Claudia Jones, Pioneer of the Notting Hill Carnival .” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. September 26, 2018. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/remembering-claudia-jones-pioneer-notting-hill-carnival.
- “Claudia Jones.” n.d. 100 Great Black Britons. Every Generation. Accessed November 13, 2019. https://100greatblackbritons.com/bios/claudia_jones.html.
- Lynn, Denise. 2018. “The Deportation of Claudia Jones.” AAIHS. African American Intellectual History Society. October 5, 2018. https://www.aaihs.org/the-deportation-of-claudia-jones.
- McClendon, John H. 2007. “Claudia Jones (1915-1964) • BlackPast.” BlackPast. JULY 24, 2007. July 24, 2007. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/jones-claudia-1915-1964.
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