The City Speaks Exhibition will be opening in cities across Europe in 2012 and 2013.

Tell us about your experience of the city and share your ideas for how you would make your city better.
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In 1958 vicious race riots erupted across London with violent attacks on newly arrived migrants throughout the summer – the culmination of a decade of escalating racial tension.

In January of the following year, a community ‘Mardi Gras’ event took place in St Pancras Town Hall – the brainchild of Claudia Cumberbatch Jones. She saw the carnival as a unifying force of hope and reconciliation, its joyful spirit captured by the slogan that decorated the hall: ‘A people’s art is the genesis of their freedom’.

Claudia Jones was a feminist, a black nationalist, political activist, community leader, communist and journalist – and was later to become known as the Mother of Notting Hill. This passionate civil rights activist turned her community leadership skills towards improving race relations and working with London’s Afro-Caribbean community. She founded the West Indian Gazette in 1958, Britain’s first black weekly newspaper.

The 1959 carnival was the first step in Claudia Jones’ vision and the event grew over the next few years until in 1964, with the efforts of local social worker Rhuane Laslett, the first outdoor carnival laid its roots in Notting Hill. The history of the carnival is by no means an easy one, marred by violence and clashes with the police in the 1970s. Today however, Notting Hill Carnival is a symbol of London’s diversity and one of the most multicultural carnivals in the world, bringing together traditions from the Caribbean, South America, Asia and Europe.

'Notting Hill Carnival 2011 [7]' by Valters Krontals, flickr, Creative Commons license
'Notting Hill Carnival 2011 [57]' by Valters Krontals, flickr, Creative Commons license
'Caribbean Carnival', 1959 event brochure and 
'In memory of Claudia Jones poster', 1965.  Reproduced with permission from Marika Sherwood, author of ‘Claudia Jones: A biography’ (2000)

This post is an excerpt from The City Speaks exhibition.