Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Black History Month - Claudia Cumberbatch Jones, Trinidadian-born activist

With shoes one can get on it the midst of thorns. (Jamaica)

1915 - Claudia Cumberbatch Jones was born in Trinidad.

I reached England in August 1964, and Claudia Cumberbatch Jones died on Christmas Eve of the same year. I was involved with Caribbean culture in the London of Kamau Braithwaite and Andrew Salkey, and I am amazed that I don’t recall hearing about Claudia till a few weeks ago.

Claudia Cumberbatch Jones, Marxist, feminist, journalist, Black nationalist, political activist, community advocate, was born in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. She came from a colonial society in which Black males had little say, and Black women had even lower status than their men. However, Claudia was fearless, outspoken, and uncompromising. She is noted for her stand against exploitation and oppression of women and people of African ancestry in the US and UK.

Claudia was eight years old when her parents migrated to New York City where she lived for 30 years. Her mother died five years later, and her poor living conditions may have contributed to her contracting the tuberculosis that damaged her lungs for life.

She took part in protests against racial injustice. For example,during the 1930s, she took part in protests against the injustice meted out to the Scottsboro Nine. These nine young men, accused of raping a white woman, were convicted by an all-white jury after a trial at which they had inadequate defence.

Claudia's activism in Communist politics drew the attention of the authorities during the McCarthy era when the United States treated suspected communists as subversives. Claudia was arrested and sent to prison several times before the US deported her in 1955.

She was given asylum in the UK where she continued her activism, vigorously defending the rights of the Black community in the UK. She founded a newspaper to promote the campaign for equal opportunities for Blacks. This was the first mass circulation newspaper for the Black community.

In 1959, she launched a celebration of Caribbean culture and talent. This event grew into a street party that became the Notting Hill Carnival.
She died in 1964. In October 2008, the UK remembered her with a special postage stamp bearing her image.

Also on this date in:

1869- International Pan-Africanist civil rights activist Henry Sylvester Williams born in Arouca, Trinidad to parents from Barbados.

1960 - British-Jamaican musician Mikey Craig was born in London, England. He gained fame as the bassist in Culture Club, the band fronted by Boy George.

1965 – Nat King Cole died

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When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at