Claudia Jones was born in Belmont, Port of Spain, Trinidad in 1915. In 1924, she migrated to Harlem, New York with her parents. Her family was part of the first wave of Caribbean Migration to the United States that happened up until 1924. In 1924, the United States government passed an Immigration Act, which placed strict immigration quotas on Caribbean countries. This Immigration Act was an attempt by the government to try to limit the influx of people into America who were classified racially and politically “undesirable”. Between 1900 and 1930, various regions of the United States received a great influx of immigrants such as Harlem which received 40,000 new immigrants (Davies xxvii). The government feared this influx of immigrants and consequently sought to limit it.
Claudia Jones’s family’s life in Harlem featured a life of hardship and poverty. Her mother died at age 37 of spinal meningitis suddenly at her machine in the garment shop where she worked. Jones blamed both the non-unionization and bad working conditions at the machine shop for her mother’s death (Jones 11). At the apartment she lived at in Harlem, open sewage flowed near her room, which led to her contracting tuberculosis at age 17 (Jones 12). After she recovered, she worked many petty jobs. Her first job was at a laundry where she observed considerable overwork in hot summer heat that caused black women to faint frequently (Jones 13). It was her experiences with petty jobs like this and living in a racist society in 1930s America that influenced her greatly.
The most influential event in her life towards her political development though was the Scottsboro Boys trial, which lasted from 1931 to 1937. In this case, 9 black boys in Alabama were tried repeatedly in various combinations and convicted and sentenced to death, threatened with lynching, and accused of gang rape of 2 white women. All of these rape accusations proved to be false in the end (Jones 3). It was the CPUSA’s role in taking the lead in this case which inspired Jones to join the CPUSA.
It was her work with the US communist party that led to her arrest on June 29th, 1951 with 17 other working class communist leaders such as Elizabeth Gurley Flynn under the infamous Smith Act (Jones 14). The Smith Act, also known as the Alien Registration Act of 1940, was a United States federal law that set criminal penalties for advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government and required all non-citizen adult residents to register with the government. Anyone who worked for a communist organization was considered to be advocating the overthrow of the United States government, and consequently, were prosecuted under this act.
The excuse the government used to enact this legislation to try to politically silence Claudia Jones was an article she wrote titled, “International Women’s Day and the Struggle For Peace” in 1950. In this article, Claudia Jones urged women in the United States to form coalitions both domestically and internationally with women across the world oppressed by United States capitalist imperialism in countries like Marshalized Italy and fascist Greece and Spain to oppose President Truman’s war policy (Jones 90-91). One of the chief goals was to end the nuclear armament that was going on in the United States. Jones urged women to pressure the government to pursue peaceful negotiations with the Soviet Union. March 8th, 1950, was to be a day of demonstrative struggle for peace, freedom, and women’s rights towards this goal.
In order to help rally women to this coalition, Jones intelligently addressed the issues of sexism women as a whole were facing in the country during this time period and why it was important to fight it together as a coalition. In the article, she mentioned that women constituted only 27.6% of all workers in 1947, which was a decrease from 36.1% in 1945. Out of the 6 million unemployed workers in the United States, 30% of them were women. Along with employment discrimination, the average woman in the United States was on average, being paid less than the average man for the same job (Jones 94).
Jones also skillfully addressed the war the capitalist government was fighting to weaken labor during this time period. She writes in the essay of how men were being told that the dismissal of married women and the return of women to the kitchen would lead to the end of unemployment along male workers. Through trying to form divisions between workers, the US capitalist power establishment sought to divert attention away from capitalism, which Jones intelligently saw. Jones saw this as part of the governments war on labor alongside other legislation such as the Taft-Hartley employer drive, which sought to depress the wages of the working classes in general, and hurt working conditions and social security benefits (Jones 94-95).
Through highlighting these important pieces of information, Jones hoped to rally women and really men together in one coalition. These sorts of issues were felt by all groups of workers and through addressing them, she hoped to end some of the divisions in the country. This made her a significant threat to the capitalist United States government.
In the article, Jones sheds positive light on the USSR. She mentions that the October Communist Revolution of 1917 in Russia guaranteed for the first time in history, women full equality in every phase of life. She mentions that under the New Soviet Constitution in Article 122 all “women in the USSR are accorded equal rights with men in all spheres of economic, state, cultural, social, and political life.” Only under socialism, Jones said, is the complete emancipation of women possible (Jones 99).
It was this praising of the Soviet Union during the time period of the Cold War that played into the red scare fears the United States government had of political activists like Claudia Jones. This led to her being persecuted under legislation like the Smith Act. When she was bailed out for $20,000, a large sum not abnormal for political activists to be impacted with, as later seen in the lives of Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, and countless others, she was later rearrested under the Walter- McCarran Law in October, 1951 (Jones 15). The Walter-McCarran act made it a crime to be a non-citizen or permanent resident alien. This legislation was known for being a racist piece of legislation, as it encouraged immigration from Europe but restricted it from the Caribbean to only a 100 people a year. Even though Jones had tried since the age of 23 to become a US citizen, the fact that she was politically active since 18 led to her applications being denied (Jones 16). Even though she had tried, the US government did not accept that, and prosecuted her under the act, which led to her inhumane internment on Ellis Island in a special Walter-McCarran wing. Her internment strained her health greatly.
On July 4th, 1953, Claudia Jones suffered heart failure diagnosed as hypertensive cardio vascular disease. Despite having a poor heart, on January 11th, 1955, she entered prison where she served 9 months and 18 days, which further put strain on her poor health. Upon her release, she was deported from the United States on December 9th, 1955, after residing in America for 32 years (Jones 15-16). Her deportation was an act of political lynching of a black female political voice in America who was considered to be not American.
When one reads her essay, “Lift Every Voice For Victory” written in 1942, one can see that Jones was someone who did love America deeply. In the essay, she mentions Joe Louis, who was an African American heavyweight boxer, who became champion for knocking out his Nazi opponent, Max Schmeling, on June 22nd, 1938. Jones mentions that it was a shot heard around the world (Jones 51). After his fight, Joe Louis joined the military and when asked why, said, he was fighting for his country. The fight being that against Nazi Germany.
The United States war against Nazi Germany, Jones wrote, was one that black Americans, and really humanity, had to get behind. While the United States did have its own severe problems, such as Jim Crow, Jones said that fascism would destroy the country’s traditions of constitutional liberty, and democratic rights. Books would be burned and culture and science perverted. There would be a destruction of democracy under Hitler that would bring with it, genocide against African Americans, Jews, and other minority groups across the United States. To Jones, the war was not a white man’s war but a war to stop a country that was the essence of evil (Jones 53-54)
Her support for the United States here shows that Jones was not someone who despised America. While she obviously knew that it had its faults, she loved what the country was at its core and sought to simply correct the illnesses that plagued it. One cannot gain the sense that she did not love America.
Jones, while pushing support for the war effort, also skillfully made the case for African American civil rights in the piece. Drawing upon a tradition of African American men and their service to the country, Jones mentions numerous instances of where African Americans had proven that they were just as patriotic as everybody else in the United States. African Americans such as Crispus Attucks, the first man to fall during the American Revolutionary War, the black soldiers during the Civil War, and heroes such as Dorie Miller, a soldier at Pearl Harbor, all received considerable praise (Jones 54-57). Through highlighting the service of African Americans to their country, Jones made the case that full integration into the war effort for blacks should be achieved in order to defeat the fascist menace of Nazi Germany. Her skillful use of patriotism here to try to push a civil rights issue is clearly seen, and her attackers later, if they had read this piece fully, cannot honestly come to the view that she hated the United States.
Claudia Jones was an incredibly intelligent women who saw that coalitions had to be formed in order to defeat capitalism in the United States. It was the fact that she was such a skillful leader that led the United States government to remove her from the political arena in the United States. The United States political lynching of Claudia Jones highlights the fact that the United State simply did not want communism to exist and gain influence in the United States. Claudia Jones, however, is just one of a series of black female communist and civil rights activists who would be persecuted by the United States………..
Jones, Claudia. “International Women’s Day and the Struggle For Peace.” Beyond Containment. Banbury: Ayebia Clarke, 2010. Print.
Jones, Claudia. “Lift Every Voice For Victory”. Beyond Containment. Banbury: Ayebia Clarke, 2010. Print.
Jones, Claudia. “Autobiographical History.” Beyond Containment. Banbury: Ayebia Clarke, 2010. Print.
Jones, Claudia, and Davies Carole. Boyce. Claudia Jones: Beyond Containment. Banbury: Ayebia Clarke, 2010. Print.