J. Charles Jones

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J. Charles Jones
Joseph Charles Jones

(1937-08-23) August 23, 1937 (age 81)
ResidenceCharlotte, North Carolina
OccupationCivil rights activist and leader
OrganizationStudent Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (co-founder)
MovementCivil Rights Movement

Joseph Charles Jones (born August 23, 1937) is a civil rights leader, attorney, co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and former chairperson of the SNCC's direct action committee.[1] Jones was born in Chester, South Carolina.[2] He led and participated in several sit-in movements during the 1960s. He served as chair of SNCC's direct action committee. In 1961 Jones joined the Freedom Riders driving from Atlanta, Georgia, to Birmingham, Alabama; he was later arrested in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1966, Jones organized an activist organization called the Action Coordinating Committee to End Segregation in the Suburbs or ACCESS.[3] He is a graduate of Howard University Law School (1966).[1] Jones passed the North Carolina State Bar in 1976.[1] As of 2011 he was serving as the chairperson for the Biddleville/Smallwood/Five Points Neighborhood Association.[1][3]

Early life and education[edit]

Jones was born in Chester, South Carolina on August 23, 1937.[4] His mother was an English teacher, and his father a Presbyterian missionary who went to rural areas to speak to people about Christianity.[4][5] His birth was unexpected so he was born at his parents' house.[4] He was often exposed to racial discrimination in his youth, and witnessed his parent attempt to save a young boy from being killed by the Ku Klux Klan after smiling at a white woman in the town.[5]

There was a day, when I was about six, that Jonesy had been accused of smiling at a white lady uptown and the word was out that they (the Klan) were going to get him. So my father and his friend put Jonesy in the trunk of the car with some food, and they drove off. I didn’t understand it at the time, but they were saving him from being lynched – just for smiling at her. I began to realize the harsh consequences of not obeying the rules.  — J. Charles Jones[5]

He lived in Chester for ten years until his family moved to Charlotte, North Carolina in 1947. They made the move so his father could attend Johnson C. Smith University, having been told by the church that he must acquire a degree.[4] Jones himself later enrolled in Johnson C. Smith University for theology in 1960.[6][7]

Civil rights activism[edit]

On February 1, 1960, after attending the National Youth Summit Conference in the Soviet Union, Jones learned of a sit-in protest at the Charlotte Woolworth staged by four black activists to fight racial segregation.[5] On February 8, 1960, Jones went to the vice chair of the student body and met with some of his classmates to inform them he intended to launch a similar sit-in protest in Charlotte's Woolworth on February 9.[8][5][3][9] At least 200 of his classmates joined in the first sit-in at the local Woolworth.[9] On March 7, 1960, after the local Woolworth closed its counters to prevent blacks from continuing their demonstration, around 100 students went to a local hardware store and sat at the soda fountain until they were served to continue the protest.[6] Students from Livingston College joined in the movement as well, and went to Salisbury drug stores to sit-in. Two of the stores refused them service.[6] Some teenagers then subsequently staged picket lines at local drug stores in the city that refused to serve blacks.[6] Jones and the students from Johnson C. Smith University returned on March 24, 1960, to Woolworth, as Jones stated, to "keep up the demonstrations as a symbol and to keep the public aware of the discrimination" blacks faced in the region.[9]

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee[edit]

Jones co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) with Ella Baker and many others at Shaw University in 1960.[1] He was involved in leading and participating in many sit-ins and other protests for the Committee.[3]

After staging a sit-in in Rock Hill, South Carolina nine black activists were arrested for "refusing to stop singing hymns during their morning devotions."[10] In response, the SNCC sent Jones, Charles Sherrod, Diane Nash, and Ruby Doris Smith to get arrested in order to carry out the Committee's "jail, no bail" newly designed strategy, which was intended to prevent the movement from being financially disenfranchised by being jailed and having to pay money for bail.[10][11]

On July 19, 1962, Jones obtained a permit and organized an integration protest at the all-white Albany, Georgia Tift Park.[12] The police however, still kept the blacks segregated in a more secluded area of the park.[12] The Albany park officials stated they had been tricked into allowing blacks to stage the protest at the park, stating that white people had submitted the permit and that they weren't aware blacks would be present.[12] Jones and two other black SNCC activists used the all-white restroom at the park, afterwards police quickly closed all of bathrooms in the park except for two which were kept under close police supervision.[12]

Eight days later on July 27, 1962, Dr. Martin Luther King, William G. Anderson and Slater King, Ralph Abernathy and five other black civil rights activists/leaders lined up in front of the Albany City Hall's police headquarters to demand a discussion with the city government about racial integration in the city.[13] The police chief refused to let them into the building, which caused King to ask Abernathy to lead the activists in a prayer. The police chief stated that if they did not leave they would be arrested.[13] King, Abernathy and the rest of the group refused to stand-down.[13] King had previously stated that they were willing to fill every jail in Georgia for demonstrating for black's civil rights.[12] They were then all arrested and led into the jail.[13] A few hours after King and the others had been arrested, Jones led a group of seventeen more activists (including Freedom Singer, Rutha Harris) to the front of the police headquarters.[14] Jones proceeded to kneel and read from a written prayer.[14] The police chief paced among the protesters as Jones prayed.[14] After the prayer was completed, Jones requested that the activists stay kneeling in "peaceful meditation".[14] The police chief ordered the group to move, and when they refused for the third time the chief said that the protesters could either walk into the jail peacefully or be brought in forcibly.[14] Ten of the activists proceeded to walk into the jail to be arrested, the remaining members who continued to kneel in place were forcibly brought into the jail on stretchers.[14]

Freedom Riders[edit]

In 1961 Jones participated in the Freedom Riders movement.[15] He and other activists rode buses into the segregated southern United States, to challenge the non-enforcement in the southern United States of the Supreme Court rulings Morgan v. Virginia (1946) and Boynton v. Virginia (1960),[16] which decided that segregated public buses were unconstitutional.[17]

“We got on the bus, we went further south, and the crowds of angry white folk started to get bigger and bigger. I heard my grandma’s spirit say, 'You're God’s child; you're as good as any of them.'"  — J. Charles Jones[15]


In June 1966 Jones founded a movement named the Action Coordinating Committee to End Segregation in the Suburbs (ACCESS) to attempt to end the racial segregation he saw occurring in the Washington beltway.[18] With a group of fellow activists he marched the entire 64 miles (103 km) of Georgia Avenue.[18][19] His intention was to bring attention to the local white landlords who refused to rent to blacks.[18][19] Jones stated the apartments around the Beltway, were essentially creating a "white ghetto surrounding the black ghetto".[18] The protest march took four days to complete.[18]

In 1967, Jones attended a meeting with the eighth U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.[18] Jones believed this was a viable way to solve the segregation of blacks from white landlords as the military had the power to make apartments which refused to rent to blacks off limits to all military personnel.[18] Such a move would financially motivate the apartments to change their racially discriminatory policies.[18] In June 1967, Secretary of Defense McNamara followed through on Jones' suggestion and banned all service members from residing at any apartment which was segregated within a 3.5-mile (5.6 km) radius of the Andrews Air Force Base Air traffic control tower.[18]

Later life and activism[edit]

As of 2011 Jones was living in Charlotte and considered himself semi-retired, although he served as the chairperson for the Biddleville/Smallwood/Five Points Neighborhood Association.[1][3][18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f The Digital Library of Georgia (2013). "Jones, Charles, 1937-". crdl.usg.edu. Archived from the original on February 20, 2018. Retrieved February 19, 2018.
  2. ^ "Charles Jones oral history interview 1, 2005 May 18". UNC Charlotte. J. Murrey Atkins Library. Archived from the original on February 20, 2018. Retrieved February 19, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e Moore, David Aaron (January 22, 2011). "Stumbling Across a Hero". Charlotte Magazine. Archived from the original on February 24, 2018. Retrieved February 19, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d Miles, Kara (June 16, 1993). "Interview with Charles Joseph Jones: Transcript of an Interview about Life in the Jim Crow South Charlotte (N.C.)" (PDF). Duke University. Behind the Veil: Documenting African-American Life in the Jim Crow South Digital Collection: John Hope Franklin Research Center, Duke University Libraries. Archived (PDF) from the original on February 24, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e "A Story Of Our Past: The Beloved Community, Sit Ins, And The Freedom Riders". QC Exclusive. March 17, 2016. Archived from the original on February 20, 2018. Retrieved February 20, 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d "Negro Student Protest Is Continued In State". Statesville Record And Landmark. Winston-Salem. UPI. March 8, 1960. p. 3. Archived from the original on February 20, 2018. Retrieved February 20, 2018.
  7. ^ Smardz, Zofia (June 22, 2012). "In Charlotte, N.C., the New South rules". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on February 20, 2018. Retrieved February 20, 2018.
  8. ^ "This Date in History: April 16, 1960; Oxford University Press". OUPblog. April 16, 2008. Archived from the original on February 20, 2018. Retrieved February 20, 2018.
  9. ^ a b c "Negro Protest Started Again". Statesville Record And Landmark. Charlotte. UPI. March 24, 1960. p. 19. Archived from the original on February 20, 2018. Retrieved February 20, 2018.
  10. ^ a b "'Sing-In' Negroes Eat Hearty; Say 'Jail—No Bail'". The Spartanburg Herald. Associated Press. February 21, 1961. Retrieved December 1, 2010. Eight Negro Demonstrators indisciplinary cell at the York County Prison Camp accepted and ate second helpings Monday of the full meal given every third day to prisoners on bread and water.
  11. ^ Hayden, Tom (November 17, 2015). Long Sixties: From 1960 to Barack Obama. Routledge. p. 193. ISBN 9781317256533.
  12. ^ a b c d e "Georgia City Under Pressure: Negros Integrate Park". Pensacola News Journal. UPI. July 20, 1962. p. 35. Archived from the original on February 20, 2018. Retrieved February 20, 2018.
  13. ^ a b c d Civil Rights Digital Library. "Stretcher arrests". The Digital Library of Georgia. Retrieved February 20, 2018.
  14. ^ a b c d e f Thomas, Courtney; Professor Barbara McCaskill. Davis, Christina; Stanley, Deborah (eds.). "Freedom On Film: Civil Rights In Georgia; Stretcher Arrests". Digital Library of Georgia. UGA. Archived from the original on June 13, 2016. Retrieved February 20, 2018.
  15. ^ a b Mead, Rebecca (March 1, 2010). "Civility". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Archived from the original on February 20, 2018. Retrieved February 20, 2018.
  16. ^ 364 U.S.
  17. ^ 328 U.S. 373 (1946); also Morgan v. Virginia. Law.cornell.edu. Archived from the original on February 17, 2012. Retrieved December 12, 2011.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Kelly, John (October 11, 2016). "'I feel as if I own this road': A civil rights figure who was in it for the long haul". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on February 20, 2018. Retrieved February 20, 2018.
  19. ^ a b Kelly, John (October 18, 2016). "Remembering the Beltway march of 1966 — and other social justice efforts". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on February 20, 2018. Retrieved February 20, 2018.