It’s Black History Month in the UK and we’re honoring #HistoryHero Claudia Jones, mother of the Notting Hill Carnival. But creating the Carnival wasn’t Claudia’s only claim to fame…
1950s London was plagued by race-based violence. Poor and working-class whites were forced to make room for West Indian migrants who came to ease the UK’s post-WWII labor shortage. Settling in Brixton and Notting Hill, they competed for limited social resources and sub-par housing.
Fascist groups stoked fear of the newcomers, resulting in white on black assaults, even murders. These grew ever more frequent. On 30 Aug 1958, Notting Hill whites attacked blacks, sparking a week-long race riot.
That year, Claudia Jones founded London’s 1st black newspaper. Originally from Trinidad, Claudia grew up in Harlem, NY, from age 8. Living in appalling conditions, Claudia contracted tuberculosis as a teen, cutting short her education. But she was smart and managed to land a job with the Harlem Journal. So why was she in London?
In the 30s, Claudia covered the Scottsboro Boys—9 black teens falsely accused of raping 2 white Alabama women—supported by the US Communist Party. The affiliation later put her in the sights of rabid anti-communist Joseph McCarthy. In the 50s, when Claudia began writing and speaking out for the emancipation of black women as editor of Negro Affairs, US authorities arrested her for ‘un-American activities’ and sought her deportation. But Trinidad didn’t want her.
The UK offered her residency on humanitarian grounds, so off she went, founding the West Indian Gazette in 1958. Run above a Brixton barber shop, it became a base of civil rights activism for London’s black and West Indian populations.
When the Notting Hill Race Riots broke that year, Claudia proposed an event to celebrate her birth culture. The first Notting Hill Carnival of 1959 featured calypso music, steel bands, and a grand finale jump-up. It gave birth to the Carnival beloved by Londoners today.
Claudia Jones died on Christmas Eve in 1964 at the age of just 49, from heart complications caused by tuberculosis. She is remembered as a journalist and activist and is buried in Highgate Cemetery next to Karl Marx.