Johnnie A. Jones Sr. dies at age 102; a civil rights lawyer from the start

Two weeks after Johnnie A. Jones Sr. graduated from law school in 1953, he was thrust into a case that would set a pattern for the civil...


Two weeks after Johnnie A. Jones Sr. graduated from law school in 1953, he was thrust into a case that would set a pattern for the civil rights movement and for his own legal career: He was recruited to help to represent people who had been arrested during a bus boycott in Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana.

Lasting eight days, it was the first large-scale bus boycott of the civil rights era. And it served as a model for other manifestations of nonviolent resistance, in particular the most famous year-round bus boycott which began in December 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, spurred by the arrest of Rosa Parks. Montgomery organizers, led by a charismatic young preacher named the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., consulted with Mr. Jones and others on tactics and strategy.

the Boycott of Baton Rouge also marked the start of Mr Jones’ 57-year career as a persistent challenger to the race-based codes of the Jim Crow South. He was the first black member of the Baton Rouge Bar Association.

Mr Jones was 102 when he died on April 23. A goddaughter, Mada McDonald, says WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge that he had died at the Louisiana War Veterans Home in Jackson, Louisiana.

In addition to his civil rights background, Mr. Jones is familiar with military history. During World War II, he served as the army’s first black warrant officer. And he took part in Operation Overlord, in which Allied forces landed more than 150,000 troops on the beaches of Normandy in 1944 in the largest amphibious assault in the history of warfare.

As for his career as a litigator, Mr. Jones has been involved in numerous civil rights cases, often working with the NAACP and the Congress for Racial Equality. He sought to remove racial identification from ballots and fought to integrate Baton Rouge schools, parks and swimming pools, while facing threats of arrest and debarment; bombs were planted twice under his car.

After the United States Supreme Court banned segregation in public schools in the landmark 1954 decision Brown v. Board of EducationMr Jones still had to accompany black children to school for their own protection, he said.

He also defended several students at Southern University, the historically black institution in Baton Rouge, after they staging of non-violent sit-ins at the lunch counter in the city, but were arrested anyway and charged with disturbing the public order. By the time the sit-in cases reached the Supreme Court in 1961, they were being argued, successfully, by Thurgood Marshallthen a young civil rights lawyer who later became the first black Supreme Court justice.

Johnnie Anderson Jones was born November 30, 1919, in Laurel Hill, a small town in northern Louisiana, and grew up on a plantation, where his parents, Henry Edward and Sarah Ann (Coates) Jones, farmed 75 acres of land. rented. earth.

After enrolling at Southern University, Mr. Jones was drafted into the army in 1942 and assigned to a unit responsible for offloading equipment and supplies onto Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion.

He was nearly killed twice, the first time when a mine exploded under his ship, knocking him to an upper deck. Then, as he waded ashore as part of the Allied assault, he came under fire from a German sniper. Before the end of the war, he had fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

While most of the D-Day soldiers were white, around 2,000 of them were black servicemen. By the end of the war, more than a million African Americans were in uniform, including the famous Tuskegee Airmen. But the military was still segregated by race, and these soldiers were discriminated against both in service and upon their return.

When he was honorably discharged from the army, Mr Jones was described as white, he recalls in an oral history in 1993. He said the clerks filling out his paperwork assumed he was white because they didn’t think a black person could have done the jobs he was listed as having done.

“Right now I’m white, as far as my discharge paper goes, because I didn’t go back to get it corrected,” he said, laughing at the memory.

Back in Louisiana, according to his account, he was on his way to a medical appointment in New Orleans one day, to have war shrapnel removed from his neck, when he was arrested and beaten by a white policeman.

“He knocked me down and started kicking me,” Mr Jones said told the Department of Veterans Affairs in a 2021 interview. The incident helped him become a lawyer, he said.

“Things weren’t right,” he said. “‘Separate but equal’ was unconstitutional, and I wanted to fight it and make it better.”

Mr. Jones returned to college at Southern and earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1949. He worked for the Postal Service as a letter carrier, then earned his law degree from Southern University School of Law (now Southern University Law Center). He was asked to lead the Justice Department’s civil rights division by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, he said, but the appointment never materialized in the wake of the president’s assassination. John F. Kennedy shortly thereafter.

Mr. Jones continued to practice law until he was 90 years old.

Her marriage, to Sebell Chase, ended in divorce. His four children and seven siblings all died before him. He is survived by many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Just last year, 77 years after being injured in the war, Mr Jones was belatedly awarded the Purple Heart at the Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge.

“I want to express our deepest respect for your distinguished service and the long overdue recognition of your wounds received during the invasion of Omaha Beach on D-Day,” wrote Chief of State General James C. McConville. -major of the army, in a letter. to Mr. Jones accompanying the prize.

“We owe you a debt of gratitude,” he added, “both for your sacrifices during World War II and for being a role model for African Americans aspiring to serve.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Johnnie A. Jones Sr. dies at age 102; a civil rights lawyer from the start
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