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Johnson C. Smith University remembers J. Charles Jones

Charles Jones Sr. '58

Our hearts and prayers go out to the friends and loved ones of alumnus Joseph Charles Jones Sr. ’58, who died at the age of 82 December 27, 2019.

Jones, known as an activist and pillar in the Charlotte community, led more than 200 JCSU students in protests for racial segregation in the Queen City during February 1960 by staging a series of sit-ins at uptown establishments. He even served hard time after an arrest for trespassing while trying to integrate an all-white lunch counter in nearby Rock Hill, SC. 

Jones’ leadership influenced a number of alumni, including second-term Charlotte City Council member Malcom Graham ’85.

“To walk the same path as Jones and many other alumni who fought for equality and justice for all made each and every one of us dig deeper and aspire to create positive change for our campus and communities,” Graham emphasized.

Jones served his alma mater as a campus leader and active participant in student government, which led to his involvement in the national student political movement of the 1960s. 

Jones later moved to the Biddleville community adjacent to the University where he organized the Biddleville/Smallwood/Five Points Neighborhood Association, and remained an active and engaged advocate for his beloved community until his death.

“His legacy inspired me to seek a career in elective office, to bring about meaningful change in Charlotte and to continue the legacy of JCSU alumni being actively involved in the political process,” Graham added.

Funeral services were held for Jones at Jane M. Smith Memorial Church on the campus of Johnson C. Smith University January 4, 2020.

Charles Jones Sr. '58

Jones shared his experiences from the March on Washington during August of 1963 with JCSU during the 50th anniversary of that event in 2013. Here are his recollections from that event: 

Charles Jones (Class of 1958)

Charles JonesI was at Howard University School of Law and marched with a group of people – some of whom I knew. I was just astonished at the number of people who were coming out to be a part of the march. I started working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee as a founding member in 1960. We were still very much a part of the civil rights activities involved in the March on Washington.

John Lewis, who I’ve known since 1960, was a member of the Freedom Riders. He was also a part of the discussions with Dr. King about what should be included as part of Dr. King’s speech. The primary concern we had was what we would say to President (John F.) Kennedy. We were concerned there would not be a clear statement to the administration that this assembly of 250,000 people was demanding action on the Public Accommodations Act* and on the Voting Rights Act that were before Congress.

Martin [i.e. Dr. King] was a little hesitant to challenge the Kennedys, but John Lewis threatened to speak if Martin didn’t. At the last minute, Martin agreed and challenged the administration to enact in Congress the Public Accommodations and Voting Rights acts. The Public Accommodations and Voting Rights acts passed Congress with pressure from Vice President (Lyndon B.) Johnson.

As I stood there, 10 to 15 rows from Martin and the group, I was awed. I had goose bumps. He went into the “I Have A Dream” speech. Martin was one of the most articulate persons on the planet. I thanked God that I was a part of the march and walked back to Howard University School of Law.

I’m so blessed at this point in my life being authenticated by sit-ins at JCSU, participating as one of the Freedom Riders, spending 30 days on a chain gang in Rock Hill, S.C., being jailed in Montgomery, Ala., and then in Albany, Ga., and overall helping to organize the Civil Rights Movement.

Charles Jones was a key figure of the Charlotte Civil Rights Movement and told his story in "Charlotte Magazine," "The Charlotte Post," and other media. His blog can be found on his website

* Public Accommodations Act: All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.

Charles Jones shared his thoughts with our staff:

Charles Jones also provided this news clipping from "The Charlotte Observer" that is a retrospective about the sit-in movement in the Queen City (below).

Clipping from

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