Chairman Jones: Portrait of an Education Pioneer
In the midst of the school desegregation crisis in Northampton County in 1969, my father, James H. Jones (1916-1984), a pioneering black farmer, led the fight to end nearly a century of inequality in education. Having freed himself from quasi-slavery sharecropping, Jones launched a personal campaign to free black children from the shackles of Jim Crow education. He placed his own children on the front line, guided blacks and whites to dialog and consensus, and helped integration "tip toe" into Northampton County. Renowned in Northampton, yet unknown to history, he led the Board of Education, inspired followers, and laid a foundation for progress in race relations in the County. While focused on my studies and career, I was unaware that he was standing in the gap between blacks and whites, changing life in Northampton County.
Northampton County is a small farming community in eastern North Carolina, known historically for its large cotton plantations. The County hotly resisted school integration, civil rights, and equality for black citizens following the Brown v Topeka Board of Education decision in 1954 and the Civil Rights Act in 1964. James H. Jones' historic appointment;as the County's first black school board representative, at the height of racial tensions in 1971, was the high point of the struggle for equal rights in Northampton. It finally gave black citizens a voice within a system where they represented sixty percent of the population. While blacks in other parts of the south were fighting to choose where they sat on buses or in movie theaters, in Northampton County they were fighting for quality education for their children.
Chairman Jones: Portrait of an Education Pioneer (tentative title) highlights the overwhelming tasks he faced as a father and community leader advocating outside of the system; then, as the lone black voice within the system during the tense years that followed Federal Judge John D. Larkins'1969 court order forcing Northampton to desegregate its schools; and, finally, the lasting impact of his legendary leadership on Northampton and surrounding counties.
Chairman Jones is a full length high definition film featuring people in the community who witnessed his extraordinary leadership firsthand and whose lives, like mine, were greatly influenced by him. It is their stories that inspired me to make this documentary. The film reveals how this improbable leader built cross-racial coalitions that helped resolve the complex, emotionally fraught issues facing Northampton County and North Carolina during the turbulent 1960's and 1970's. It paints a portrait of an extraordinary man during an extraordinary period in our State's history. Chairman Jones will cultivate a deeper appreciation for the courage and sacrifice it took for him to walk the tight rope between two worlds to open access to quality education for black children. In so doing, he advanced educational opportunities for all of Northampton County's children and gained the trust and respect of both black and white citizens.
As the class/race divide widens and notions of consensus, civility, and multi-culturalism ring hollow, the lessons of my father's story will resonate with individuals, families, and leaders of all cultures. It is a story that needs to be heard today as our Nation's deepening crisis in education, leadership, ethics, and integrity spirals downward at an accelerating pace. Who will stand in the gap?