Pioneering human rights campaigner Claudia Jones celebrated with blue heritage plaque
The life of pioneering human rights campaigner, activist and journalist Claudia Jones has been celebrated with the unveiling of a blue heritage plaque outside her iconic North London home.
Camden Council has partnered with the Nubian Jak Community Trust, an organisation dedicated to installing blue plaques commemorating significant individuals from underrepresented communities, to install a blue heritage plaque at the previous home of pioneering human rights campaigner and activist Claudia Jones.
The plaque was unveiled alongside community members today [18 Dec] at 58 Lisburne Road in Camden, where Ms Jones lived for the last two years of her life.
Claudia Jones worked tirelessly for equality and in support of Caribbean communities in London from the 1950s onwards. She set up Britain’s first Black newspaper, The West Indian Gazette, organised anti-racism campaigns and put on Britain’s first Caribbean Carnival in Camden to enable people to share and celebrate culture.
Camden’s diverse communities are what makes the borough the special and strong place that it is. That’s why we want to commemorate pioneering individuals from communities that have historically been underrepresented to ensure our public spaces reflect and celebrate the diversity of our communities and to continue building on our community strength. It was an honour to join community members and the Nubian Jak Community Trust to celebrate the immense contributions and influence Claudia Jones had on communities across Camden and London.
Camden has a rich history of social and political activism by people with African and Caribbean heritage and we want to do more to shine a light on these individuals. Claudia Jones left a lasting legacy here in Camden and is known as one of the most influential Black leaders of post war Britain, so it’s fantastic to be celebrating her life and recognising her significant work in civil rights and social justice which will also hopefully give residents and visitors the opportunity to learn more about her life and legacy.
Claudia was a woman of the global south, silenced and expelled from the west, who re-established her activism in the UK, and whose influence subsequently spread throughout the Commonwealth.
Claudia Jones was born Claude Vera Cumberbatch in Trinidad and Tobago on 21 February 1915. She was one of four girls born to Charles and Sybil Cumberbatch, who moved to the US in 1922 to search for a better life.
Joining her parents in New York aged 8 in 1924, for the next 31 years Ms Jones became acutely aware of the racism that would shape her life. In 1936, aged 21, Claudia Cumberbatch joined the American Communist Party and before long was rising through the ranks. By 1945 she had taken the surname Jones and was one of the main editors of the communist newspaper The Daily Worker.
Soon her burgeoning reputation as an essayist was being consolidated as a political strategist. However, her fame and influence brought with it surveillance by the FBI. Within 10 years she would be deemed a threat to national security and deported from the US.
It was 1955, and her own country of birth had been advised not to let her return, which meant Claudia Jones would move to London. However, with the first of the Windrush generation arriving only seven years prior, Trinidad’s loss would be Black Britain’s gain. London at that time was subject to tension over race, immigration, and citizenship. Even though the newcomers were British subjects and invited to help rebuild Britain, much of the Windrush generation were treated with hostility and violence.
Claudia Jones worked tirelessly in support of Caribbean communities in London, setting up Britain’s first Black newspaper, anti-racism campaigns and organising Britain’s first Caribbean Carnival.
The Carnival was held in Camden Town Hall in January 1959 and featured steel bands, calypso singing, dancing, costumes, a beauty pageant and food. The carnival was very successful and ran at venues across London for five years, and was the catalyst to the Notting Hill Carnival that still thrives today.
Claudia Jones died suddenly aged 49 on Christmas Eve 1964, and was laid to rest in Highgate Cemetery in Camden.