With the onset of the Cold War and the U.S. government’s attacks on radicalism, the American Communist Party began to reassess its priorities in the late 1940s. Claudia Jones chose this moment to draw the Party’s attention to its neglect of Black women’s issues. Despite the Party’s anti-racist and anti-sexist commitment, Party leaders left women’s issues to women members while the Party’s commitment to Black self-determination weakened in the face of Cold War scrutiny. Jones used the internal debate as an opportunity to commit the Party to focusing on Black women’s class, race, and gender oppression. The publication of her 1949 article “An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman” propelled Jones to leadership in the Party, changed the Party’s focus on women’s issues, and made Jones a pioneer thinker in intersectional feminism.
Black women’s unique oppression was an issue long discussed in civil rights and Black nationalist movements and described by many names, including ‘double jeopardy,’ Jane Crow, triple exploitation, or triple oppression. The educator Anna Julia Cooper wrote at length about Black women’s gendered and racialized experience with oppression. Amy Jacques Garvey, Marcus Garvey’s second wife, wrote several articles in the Negro World about the need to dismantle the gender-neutral approach to anti-racism. Women in the American Communist Party emphasized that class could not be excluded in examinations of Black women’s experience in the United States. Erik S. McDuffie credits communist Louise Thompson with coining the phrase triple oppression. But Carole Boyce Davies argues it was Claudia Jones who popularized the idea. It was Jones’ article on the Party’s neglect of Black women that synthesized the ideas about triple oppression that she had been writing and speaking about for years. What scholars have ignored is that in Jones’ written work on Black women’s oppression, she articulated an emancipatory politics for all. In her framework, the liberation of the most oppressed–Black women–would mean the liberation of everyone.