Claudia Jones and the Notting Hill Carnival
Elaine Wein writes about Claudia Jones – one of the women featured in her walk Hidden Lambeth
Claudia Jones lived at No. 6 Meadow Lane Lambeth between 1958 and 1960. She was a feminist, black activist and journalist. She published the West Indian Gazette, Britain’s first post-war Black newspaper but is probably more famous for organising what later became the Notting Hill Carnival.
Claudia was born in Trinidad and moved with her family to Harlem, New York, aged 8 years. She graduated from high school, but her family was so poor that they could not afford to attend the graduation ceremony. 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 in Harlem.
Following the death of her mother, due to atrocious working conditions, Jones became determined to upgrade the working situation of both black and white working class people and to confront racist attitudes in all societies.
She became an active member of the American Communist party during her time in New York; she was editor of the party’s paper, a regular national speaker on civil and human right issues, and she became the National Director of the Young Communist League when she was aged 25. However, she was viewed as a political radical and after being imprisoned several times she was deported from the USA and gained asylum in Britain in 1955.
When she arrived in the UK, it was at a time when many landlords, shops and even some government establishments displayed signs which said “No Irish, No Blacks”, Jones found a community that needed active organisation. She began to get involved in the British African-Caribbean community to organise both access to basic facilities, as well as the early movement for equal rights. In 1958 Jones became the founder and editor of the first black British weekly newspaper, The West Indian Gazette (WIG). This newspaper was an important aspect in Jones’ struggle for equality for black people.
Four months after launching the WIG, came the Notting Hill Riots in 1958 and the murder of Caribbean carpenter Kelso Cochrane. Jones helped to launch the predecessor of the Notting Hill Carnival in 1959. Its aim was to bring West Indians together and reach out to the white population of Britain. Initially this ‘Mardi Gras’ event was a small cultural evening in the town hall in the winter and the proceeds were to pay fines of black and white youths. Today, obviously the carnival is a very different affair, held at August Bank Holiday is Europe largest street festival.
Jones died on Christmas Eve 1964, aged 49. Her funeral on 9 January 1965 was a large and political ceremony and was buried next to her hero, Karl Marx, in Highgate Cemetery. In October 2008, Britain’s Royal Mail commemorated Jones with a special postage stamp.
Hidden Lambeth takes place on Sunday 23rd February at 11am https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/hidden-lambeth-tickets-10408932397