Defiance from the dock
Our esteemed contributor, David Horsley, has written about the defiant speech given by Claudia during her trial and those of other comrades from the Communist Party of the USA. The trial, held from September 1952 40 January 1953, resulted in Claudia’s imprisonment, contributed to the worsening of her ill health and led to her deportation.
Here is my piece on Claudia Jones’s speech to the court
“Your Honor, there are a few things I wish to say. For if what I say here serves even one whit to further dedicate growing millions of Americans to fight for peace, and to repel the fascist drive on free speech and thought in our country, I shall consider my rising to speak worthwhile indeed.
Quite candidly Your Honor, I say these things not with any idea that what I say will influence your sentence of me. For even with all the powers Your Honor holds, how can you decide to mete out justice for the only act to which I proudly plead guilty, and for one, moreover by which your own prior rulings constitute no crime-that of being a member and office of the Communist Party of the United States?
Will you measure for example, as worthy of one years sentence, my passionate adherence to the idea of fighting for full unequivocal equality for my people, the Negro people, which as a Communist, I believe can only be achieved allied to the cause of the working class.
A year for another vital Communist belief, that the bestial Korean War is an unjust war? Or my belief that peaceful coexistence of nations can be achieved and peace won if struggled for?
Another year for my belief that only under socialism will exploitation of man by man be finally abolished and the great human and industrial resources of the nation be harnessed for the well being of the people?
Still another year’s sentence for my belief that the denial of the exercise of free speech and thought to Communists only precedes, as history confirms, the denial of the exercise of these rights to all Americans? ”
These were the opening words of Claudia Jones’s statement to the court in New York in February 1953. As a member of the Political Committee of the Communist Party, she, alongside ten other leading Communists was being tried in a court, described at the time as “The thought control trial held under the infamous provisions of the fascist-like Smith Act before a rigged jury, with framed up testimony provided by paid stool pigeons and professional informers and in an atmosphere of hysteria”
Several years before, eleven leading Communists had been tried under similar circumstances and given severe prison sentences. This period of McCarthyism saw thousands of communists, trade unionists, Black activists and others persecuted and imprisoned by a reactionary American government that preached the threat of communism taking over the country to disguise its attack on democracy and civil rights.
In “Black and Red”, Claudia Jones was one of the main targets of the repressive state machine, which for years had tried to deport her as an alien and immigrant. Shades here of the present British government, which is still actively deporting people who originally arrived here as immigrants. Claudia, born in Trinidad, had arrived in the USA aged just eight and had been constantly denied American citizenship because of her politics. The authorities now had her in their sights.
She was indicted for an article she had written “Women in the Struggle for Peace and Security” because this had broken the bail conditions she was under. However, the judge refused to allow the article to be read out in court. Claudia’s response was outstanding, she said
“Introduce a page to show Claudia Jones wrote an article during the indictment period, but you dare not even read a line of it, even to a biased jury, on which sat a lone Negro juror, there by accident, since he was an alternate well through most of the trial. You dare not gentlemen of the prosecution, assert that Negro women can think and speak and write”
She continued to denounce racism and declare her pride in being a communist. She ended her statement with these words.
“If out of this struggle history assesses that I and my co-defendants have made some small contribution, I shall consider my role small indeed. The glorious exploits of anti-fascist heroes and heroines, honoured today in all lands for their contributions to social progress, will, just like the role of our prosecutors, also be measured by the people of the United States in that coming day”
Imprisoned and then deported to Britain after the trial, Claudia Jones is remembered for many accomplishments, not least of which is her historic statement to the court in February 1953. Her words then and today, where we are seeing growing tensions between nations, the rise of fascism in many parts of the world and continued oppression of people because of their sex and race as well as class remain valid.
The 21st of February 1915, is also Claudia’s birthdate so the Communist Party’s Anti-Racist Anti-Fascist Commission planned to celebrate her life with an annual ceremony including an oration beside her grave at Highgate Cemetery. The Communist Party, with broad participation from our friends and allies in the community and abroad, aims to arrange the first commemoration in February 2022 when we all hope the Covid pandemic which has taken so many lives, especially from the most vulnerable, the poorest, the oldest and Black and Asian people is over.
Spellings and capital letters in the quotes from Claudia Jones’s speech are as in the original.
David can be contacted by email at email@example.com.
Further examples from the life of a wonderful hero
Claudia Jones, feminist, black nationalist, political activist, community leader, communist and journalist, has been described as the mother of the Notting Hill carnival. The diversity of her political affiliations clearly illustrated her multifaceted approach to the struggle for equal rights in the 20th century.
She was born in Belmont, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad in 1915 and at the age of eight moved to Harlem, New York with her parents and three sisters. Her education was cut short by tuberculosis, and the damage to her lungs as well as severe heart disease plagued Claudia for the rest of her life.
For over 30 years she lived in New York and during this time became an active member of the Communist Party of the USA, an organisation in which her journalistic and community leadership skills were maximised. By 1948 she had become the editor of Negro Affairs for the party’s paper, the Daily Worker, and had evolved into an accomplished speaker on human and civil rights.
In 1955, she was deported from the US and given asylum in England, where she spent her remaining years working with London’s African-Caribbean community. She founded and edited The West Indian Gazette, which despite financial problems remained crucial in her fight for equal opportunities for black people.
Claudia Jones’s lasting legacy is undoubtedly the Notting Hill Carnival, which she helped launch in 1959 as an annual showcase for Caribbean talent. These early celebrations were held in halls and were epitomised by the slogan, ‘A people’s art is the genesis of their freedom’.
Thanks to Every Generation. https://100greatblackbritons.com/bios/claudia_jones.html.
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