Civil Rights Activist, Founding Member of SNCC, J. Charles Jones Dead at 82

Nicole Rojas SAVE THIS
Mug shot of Charles Jones taken after his arrest on May 25, 1961 by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department. (Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department)

Charles Jones, a civil rights activist who helped organize the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the 1960s and took part in the Freedom Rides, died in his home in Charlotte, North Carolina on December 27, 2019. Jones was 82 years old. The cause of death was Alzheimer’s disease and sepsis, his son Michael Jones told The New York Times, which first reported the news.

Joseph Charles Jones was born to a Presbyterian minister named J.T. and an English teacher named Ione (Elston) Jones on August 23, 1937 in Chester, South Carolina. 

In the winter of 1960, Jones was inspired to join the Civil Right Movement by four young Black men from nearby Greensboro who challenged an unjust law by sitting at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter. On February 1, 1960, Ezell Blair Jr., David Richmond, Franklin McCain and Joseph McNeil — sat down at a counter which refused service to them because they were Black. 

The four young men, who became known as the Greensboro Four, remained in their seats until the store closed and returned the following day with students from local colleges. 

At the time, Jones was a seminary student studying at Johnson C. Smith University of Charlotte. A week after the staged sit-in, Jones attended a student council meeting and announced with other students that they would stage a similar protest at the Charlotte Woolworth’s the next day, The New York Times reported. 

“The next morning there were 216 students outside the administration building,” Jones recalled during an oral history recorded for Miami University of Ohio in 2005. “And we all went downtown in various forms and sat at every lunch counter there.” 

That one protest led to a long history of civil rights work for Jones, including being one of the founding members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). SNCC, which included such members as future Congressman John Lewis, was established following a meeting at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina in April 1960.

The new group grew out of concern that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which was led by Martin Luther King, Jr., was not in touch with younger Blacks, according to History.com

Jones and three other SNCC members traveled to Rock Hill, South Carolina to support the Rock Hill Nine, a group that had been arrested for protesting a segregated lunch counter. The Rock Hill Nine opted to go to jail and do 30 days on a chain gang instead of posting bail. The four SNCC members were also arrested, with Jones serving 30 days as well. 

In 1961, Jones led SNCC’s voter registration division. He organized work in Albany, Georgia and McComb, Mississippi. Jones was arrested several times during his work with SNCC, including on two occasions with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

The SNCC Legacy Project did not respond to a request to comment about Jones’ work with the group. 

In that same year, Jones also rode from Atlanta, Georgia to Birmingham Alabama on a Greyhound bus as part of the Freedom Rides. He was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama.

He attended law school at Howard University, and helped establish the Action Coordinating Committee to End Segregation in the Suburbs, otherwise known as Access. Jones and a small group of protesters marched the 64-mile Washington Beltway in June 1966 to highlight the issues Black people faced while trying to rent in the suburbs, an issue that continues to this day. 

Jones convinced Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara to meet with him after the march on Washington Beltway and convinced him to pressure suburban landlords near military bases that did not rent out to Black soldiers. McNamara responded in June 1967 by banning military members from renting at segregated apartment complexes near Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. 

Two of Jones’ three marriages ended in divorce — the first to Marian Irving and the second to Joanne Vasco. Jones is survived by his wife Jackie (Blackwell) Jones and his three children from his first two marriages: Michael, Joseph Charles Jr. and Ireti Jones Burrell. He is also survived by four grandchildren. 


About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.

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