Summer is a busy time for me, so I’ve taken the last couple of months off from the blog. Unfortunately, summer is nearing its end next week, so it’s time to dust off the books and start clearing out the backlog of great history that I’ve been accumulating since June.
First up is this bio of Clarence “Jeep” Jones, namesake of the park next to the Timilty Middle School. On August 22nd, there was the unveiling of a new sculpture, along with plenty of accolades for Jones, at the park titled “The Value of a Life," (video link) intended to bring some hope to our city’s neverending problem of youth violence. And coming up on October 18, Mr. Jones will be one of three Roxbury residents honored with a Puddingstone Award at the Heart of the Hub, Discover Roxbury’s annual fundraiser.
With all of these accolades, I thought it would be interesting to find out a bit more about Mr. Jones. Getting a complete picture of him has proven to be more of a challenge than I anticipated. There are a few tidbits online, but nothing of sufficient depth to satisfy my curiosity about a man who has a park named after him and who commands the respect of every city official in Boston.
There are a few different sources of info online for Jones. One is his official bio at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, where he serves as the Chairman of the Board. Another is this Bay State Banner article about street basketball players of the 1950’s. Mr. Jones was apparently quite the hoops star, and his skills undoubtedly led to his acceptance at Winston-Salem State University, where he graduated in 1955. His basketball prowess was sufficient to get him elected to the WSSU basketball hall of fame earlier this summer, according to this article in the Winston-Salem Journal.
After a bit more searching, a colleague of mine emailed an unsourced bio that she suspects was informed by Mr. Jones or his wife. The picture of his life is now much clearer, but not complete. Here’s what I’ve been able to figure out.
Mr. Jones was born in Roxbury, probably about 1933. He attended Boston Public Schools and graduated from Brandeis Vocational HS. He was a an all-around athlete who ran track and played football, but it’s clear that his best sport was basketball. After high school, he attended WSSU and was a 4-year letterman under legendary coach Clarence “Big House” Gaines while earning his BS in education. His time on the court introduced him to other up-and-comers including Gene Walcott (later knows as Louis Farrakhan) and future mayor Ray Flynn. Following college, he served 2 years in the US Army. He also has a Master’s in an unknown subject from Goddard College in Plainsfield, VT.
Once he’d finished his education, he returned to Roxbury. He taught at the Dearborn School during the day and as a gym instructor at the Norfolk House by night. As an aside, this is the first time I’ve heard of the Norfolk House having a gym or gym instructors. He then moved on to a position as a youth worker for the city and was promoted to a supervisory position. In 1965, he became a youth probation officer and later worked for the mayor as coordinator of youth activities. More promotions followed, including a stint as head of the office of human rights, but always stayed involved with Roxbury youth and basketball coaching.
Mr. Jones has had many notable firsts as a city employee, including being the first minority youth worker, black juvenile probation officer, black deputy mayor, and black chairman of the BRA. He’s been on the board of the BRA since 1981 and has been the chairman since 1989. Among his many honors, he was awarded an honorary doctorate in public service from Northeastern University in 2005 and received a “Living Legend” award from the Renaissance School earlier this year.
If you have more pertinent details to offer about Clarence “Jeep” Jones, including his birthday or the reason he’s called “Jeep,” please let me know via email or leave the info in the comments.