James H. Jones made his living as a farmer, but it was in the field of education where he made a long-lasting impact that continues to be remembered today.
The Roanoke-Chowan News Herald of Ahoskie reported that the late Jones will be honored with a North Carolina Civil Rights Trail marker at an event on Saturday, June 3 at Northampton County Schools Central Services Office, 701 N. Church Street, Jackson.
In 1971 Jones was the first Black person elected to the Northampton County Board of Education.
He continued to be elected to the county’s board of education for subsequent terms and in 1980 he was chosen to serve as the chair of Northampton County’s school board, a first for any African American in all of North Carolina.
The North Carolina African American Heritage Commission has been putting together the NC Civil Rights Trail over the past few years to commemorate leaders, events, and locations throughout the state that played important roles during the Civil Rights Movement.
The commission’s work is funded by the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, and is also supported by Visit North Carolina and the North Carolina Office of Archives and History.
Although there is already a virtual version of Jones’ NC Civil Rights Trail marker available online, this physical marker will be the first one on the trail in Northampton County, as well as the first marker of any kind to recognize an African American in the county.
A press release about the event explained, “In the 1960s and 70s, when Northampton County, North Carolina, and the South in general were all consumed with racial tensions and turbulence, James Jones lead a movement of people from segregation to cooperation around education for the children of Northampton, ending nearly a century of inequality in facilities and resources. “Jones was successful in building cross-racial coalitions that helped resolve the complex, emotionally fraught issues facing the county at that time. As the lone Black voice on the county’s Board of Education in 1971, the value he placed on children and his reputation for fairness gained him the trust and respect of his fellow citizens.”
During the years he spent on the school board — 1971-1984 — Jones sought equality, high quality education, improved facilities, and school accreditation for all children.
He passed away in 1984.
To recognize his achievements, Jones was posthumously inducted into the Educators Hall of Fame at East Carolina University in 2014.
Jones’ daughter, Anna Jones, was the one who led efforts to secure the Civil Rights Trail marker beginning in 2021.
As she explained to the county commissioners at the time, “He was a champion of integration, education, equality, voting rights, and race relations in Northampton County. The Civil Rights movement did not bypass Northampton County. It came here too. We didn’t have protest marches or things like that. Our battle, for the most part, was waged in boardrooms and courtrooms.”
In February 2022, the Northampton Board of Education unanimously approved hosting the history marker at the school district’s central office, where more citizens, students, and visitors will have easy access to view it.
The June 3 marker dedication event will be held beginning at 11:15 a.m. and will feature Dr. Timothy B. Tyson as the keynote speaker. Tyson is a Civil Rights historian, writer, and Duke University professor.
Music will be provided by Deion Warren of Conway, former contestant on The Voice.
Anna Jones produced an award-winning documentary about her father in 2015.
The documentary, entitled Chairman Jones – An Improbable Leader, unfolds through Anna’s conversations with those who lived during the Civil Rights movement and witnessed her father’s courage and leadership.
The film will be screened locally during the week leading up to the marker dedication. The Northampton Memorial Library in Jackson will host screenings at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Tuesday, May 30; and at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 1.
Northampton County Schools’ Central Service Office will also host a screening at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 3 before the dedication event gets underway.
There is limited seating at the free screening, and admission will be first come, first served.
The marker dedication event is a result of collaborations and partnerships with Northampton County Board of Commissioners, Northampton County Cultural Arts Committee, Northampton County Tourism, Northampton Memorial Library, Central Services staff, the town council of Jackson, Northampton County Board of Education, and more.