Talk on Claudia Jones at the GPI, or history in the making

On Wednesday night I attended a talk at the George Padmore Institute to promote a new book about Claudia Jones by Carole Boyce Davies, Professor of African–New World Studies and English at Florida International University.

Left of Karl Marx Whilst Boyce Davies gave a fascinating account both of her research process and of some of aspects of Claudia Jones’s life it was the question and answer session afterwards that really grabbed me. Although there were no more than twenty people in the room, many of those present had personal memories of Claudia Jones and were able to fill in a number of gaps in Boyce Davies’s account and sometimes answer each other’s questions from personal experience.

Despite the importance of her contribution to Black British history Claudia Jones’s archival record is depressingly small, since her papers all vanished in the immediate aftermath of her death for reasons that are by no means clear or uncontroversial. In cases of this sort community archives – not just the collections of material but the living breathing oral history archive that is the older members of the community (defined in this case by those who came together at the intersection of race and powerful leftist politics) – acquire additional significance, since often their memories are all that protect certain individuals or events from erasure.

That said, I do find myself wondering whether today Claudia Jones is as invisible as she has been for much of the recent past. Granted, many people will never have heard of her, but in certain ways there are signs of the beginnings of a rediscovery. She appears in a number of lists of the great and the good, from the 100 Black Britons list (see link at top of article) to BBC Radio 4’s timeline. Although the process by which people make it on to these lists are perhaps the most interesting area to explore. Behind every small victory like these are often the community voices and the community archives that have kept these stories alive.

You can listen to Boyce Davies talking about Claudia Jones on BBC radio 4’s Woman’s Hour back in 2001 here.


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