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Row mars celebration of Claudia

18 October, 2018 — By John Gulliver

Activist Claudia Jones – the annual memorial lecture in her memory was this year cancelled after an argument about the speaker

WHO is Claudia Jones?

She was a remarkable, politically tough woman from Trinidad, who migrated to the US and then became a victim in the 1950s of the McCarthyite witchhunt, fleeing to these shores. She had been accused of being a Communist, and other political crimes of the times.

A campaigning journalist, she started a West Indian weekly and, aware of the need to keep the community spirit alive among the Caribbeans, she started holding mini-carnivals at the St Pancras Assembly – and has always been regarded as the founder of today’s annual Notting Hill Carnival.

She lived in the South End Green area of Hampstead and died in December 1964.

Her name was known in different parts of the world among those involved in the various battles for colonial independence of the 1950s and 1960s.

In my first visit to Peking (now known as Beijing) I was invited in early 1965 to a memorial for her at the Peace Hotel in Changan Boulevard, and realised the awe in which she was held.

So, I find something squalid about the squabble over the on/off talk that was to be held at the Guardian offices in King’s Cross on Friday about Claudia. After the editor of the Canary website, Kerry-Anne Mendoza, was due to give the talk a storm of objections arose – some from well-known columnists on the Guardian – over the arrangements, and the talk never took place.

It was to have been the annual lecture on the life and principles of Claudia – and has been given in the past, I believe, by Diane Abbott, Labour’s shadow home secretary, as well as by miners’ leader Arthur Scargill.

Apparently, the journalists supported the talk in the “memory of a pioneering black female journalist” but not the choice of the speaker – the Canary site is often accused of being pro-Corbyn, biased and inaccurate.

I am not inclined to judge the pros and cons of this unseemly row.

Perhaps I am too much of the old school, but I cannot understand why the talk could not have been given as part of a debate on the more important problems of the day facing black people and immigrants – the discriminatory and disproportionate “exclusions from school”, for instance, of ethnic youngsters and, of course, the consequences of the government’s “hostile environment” policy that caused many now elderly Caribbeans to be humiliated, hounded and then deported by immigration officials.

I have always felt a plaque should be erected outside Claudia’s old home in Hampstead, and several Camden councillors have talked about this in the past but so far her stay of several years in the borough has gone without public recognition.


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