We’re sporting a new look! Learn more about thenew and improved SNCC Digital Gateway

Jim Jones

1943 –
Raised in Willisville, Arkansas

As a director of SNCC’s Arkansas project, Jim Jones joined a long tradition of Black resistance in the Arkansas Delta. His mother, Vick Jones was active in the church and a member of the local NAACP. His father, Ernest Jones, bought his first acre of land when he was thirteen years old, giving his son an unusual level of economic independence. Jones remembered going with his parents to the cotton gin. Most Black people in town weren’t allowed to stay at the gin while their cotton was weighed, a practice that allowed the owners to cheat them out of their pay. But the Jones family was different. Jones’ parents went to the cotton gin with their shotguns and made sure they were paid fairly. Although his parents only had a seventh grade education, they instilled in Jones a sense of his own power.

Jim Jones enrolled in Arkansas AM&N College at Pine Bluff after he graduated from high school. Alongside SNCC organizer Bill Hansen, Jones worked with other students to spearhead a desegregation campaign. The students were arrested for sitting-in. A local minister held a meeting at his church, and the building was packed with older residents who wanted to support the students. After he got out of jail, Jones heard stories about little old ladies who pulled wads of cash out of their bras and shoes to pay his bail. Jones was expelled from school for his activism and became a full-time field organizer for SNCC. In every community, he found people just like his parents, Black people who were ready and willing to get involved with the Movement.

In 1963, Jones met Ms. Carrie Dilworth in Lincoln County. She had been a member of the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union. The organization had formed in the 1930s to organize exploited tenant farmers and sharecroppers, but it no longer existed. With the help of Ms. Dilworth and the Lincoln County Civics League, an association of Black farmers, however, SNCC registered over 400 voters. Before Jim Jones left Lincoln County, Ms. Dilworth instructed him, “Young man, when you go into a neighborhood, for the first time, if there’s a black barber shop there, go in there. And ask for…somebody who’s interested in politics … those gossipin’ men in the barber shop know that stuff.”

So, when he went to Forrest City, Jones approached a few men who were standing outside of a barber shop. He told them that SNCC wanted to register Black people to vote and identify members of the community who’d be willing to run for office. The men knew just who Jones needed to meet and introduced him to Ms. Clay, a successful funeral home director. “Young man I’m glad to see you,” Ms. Clay said, “this is long overdue.” Ms. Clay told Jones he didn’t have to worry about getting people to the first mass meeting. “I don’t know who all [she] called” Jones remembers “but [she] had a church packed that night.”

In 1967, Jones left SNCC to become the training director for the Organization of Southern Cooperatives, but the principles he learned with SNCC continued to guide his work. Jones believed that in every community the “seed was there, it was just sittin’ still.”

Sources

John A. Kirk, “The Origins of SNCC in Arkansas: Little Rock, Lupper, and the Law,” Arsnick: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Arkansas, edited by Jennifer Jensen Wallach and James A. Kirk (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2011).

Holly G. McGee, “‘It Was the Wrong Time, and They Just Weren’t Ready’: Direct Action Protests in Pine Bluff, 1963,” Arsnick: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Arkansas, edited by Jennifer Jensen Wallach and James A. Kirk (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2011).

“Field Report, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, 1963” Arsnick: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Arkansas, edited by Jennifer Jensen Wallach and James A. Kirk (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2011).

“Letter to Collin Minert from James O. Jones, 1965” Arsnick: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Arkansas, edited by Jennifer Jensen Wallach and James A. Kirk (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2011).

“Letter to a friends from James Jones, 1965,” Arsnick: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Arkansas, edited by Jennifer Jensen Wallach and James A. Kirk (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2011).

Interview with James Oscar Jones by Joseph Mosnier, May 25, 2011, Civil Rights History Project, Library of Congress.


Interview with James Jones by Joseph Mosnier, May 25, 2011, Civil Rights History Project, LOC


“The Arkansas Project: New Territory, New Methods,” The Movement, June 1965, Robert Starobin Papers, WHS


“If You Know What’s Good For You … Stay out of Helena,” The Student Voice, December 16, 1963, WHS

Click Here to View Document
“People’s Conference Calls for Action,” Arkansas Voice, May 27, 1965, crmvet.org