UK honors Claudia Jones with stamp

Britain’s Royal Mail issued a stamp last October honoring six “Women of Distinction” in the UK, among them Claudia Jones, a leader of the Communist Party USA who was deported from the United States in 1955, settling in London where she continued her struggle for equality, peace, and socialism.

A friend in London sent us a Christmas card bearing the stamp with Claudia Jones’ likeness.

“Claudia Jones, the prominent Civil Rights activist is featured on the 72p stamp,” reads the Royal Mail news release. “Born in Trinidad, she was brought up in Depression-era Harlem, New York,” the release states. “She arrived in England in 1955 and it was from her base in London’s Notting Hill that she continued to campaign for the rights of UK’s black community.”

In 1958, she founded Britain’s first black newspaper, the West Indian Gazette. “A further part of her legacy is the Notting Hill Carnival which she helped launch a year later,” the release continues. That festival is celebrated to this day, one of the biggest mass cultural events in England.

Others honored with a stamp in the series are Barbara Castle, who championed equal pay for women, Maria Stopes, who pioneered in the struggle for family planning, and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, first woman elected mayor of a city in England. She was also the first woman to qualify as a medical doctor in England founding the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital for Women. Also honored with a stamp is her sister Millicent Garrett Fawcett, president of England’s National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. Finally, Eleanor Rathbone is honored for her campaign to win Family Allowances for working class families.

Julietta Edgar, Royal Mail’s director of Special Stamps, said, “It’s easy to forget the enormous contribution women have made in key areas of our lives over the last century. These stamps commemorate six unique individuals whose dedicated work not only changed the lives of other women but society as a whole.”

Regrettably, no mention is made of Claudia Jones’ membership in either the CPUSA or the Communist Party of Great Britain which she joined soon after being deported to England. A profile of Jones by Clara West posted on the Political Affairs web site informs us that Claudia Jones was born in 1915 in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, emigrating to the U.S. in 1922. She was a brilliant high school student, earning academic awards and high honors but was forced by economic privation and racist discrimination to toil in a laundry, in a factory and as a clerk in retail stores.

In the mid-1930s, she was drawn into protests against the drive to legally lynch the Scottsboro Nine, Black youths facing the death sentence in Alabama on trumped up rape charges. She joined the Young Communist League in 1936 and became the YCL’s Harlem organizer. Soon she joined the CPUSA and also the staff of the Daily Worker, forerunner of the People’s Weekly World. An active member of the National Negro Congress and the Southern Negro Youth Congress, she won renown as an eloquent speaker and teacher.

In the 1940s she served on the YCL National Council and became the editor of the League’s periodical “Weekly Review.” In 1943, she served as editor of Spotlight, monthly journal of the American Youth for Democracy. In 1945, she became the Black Affairs editor of the Daily Worker and helped found the CPUSA’s commission on work among African Americans.

In the summer of 1943, according to FBI documents, Jones was included on a list of so-called “subversives” to be “considered for custodial detention,” the first indication that she was targeted for prison or deportation. In January 1948, Jones was arrested on immigration charges. Jones was held at Ellis Island where she wrote one of her most poignant columns about gazing out the window of her prison cell across the water to the nearby Statue of Liberty, symbol of America as a refuge from tyranny.

A mass campaign to win her freedom resulted in her release. But in 1951 she was arrested again along with other leaders of the CPUSA under the infamous Smith Act. The Supreme Court refused to hear her appeal and she was imprisoned with her comrades, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Betty Gannett, at Alderson Federal Prison for Women in West Virginia. She suffered a heart attack while in prison and was weakened by cardiovascular disease from which she never fully recovered.

She was released from prison in October 1955 and was forced into exile. She plunged back into activity in England winning a mass following in London’s West Indian community. She died Christmas Eve 1964 and is buried near the grave of Karl Marx in London’s Highgate Cemetery.

Gurley Flynn wrote a poem on the day Claudia Jones was released from Alderson, which said, “I feel a sudden joy that you are gone, that once again you walk the streets of Harlem, that today for you at least, is Freedom’s dawn.”