A new mural has been installed in the Historic West End to honor the late J. Charles Jones, a civil rights activist and attorney.
Jones was a freedom rider that led lunch counter sit-ins and voter registration drives across the South. His civil rights efforts began in Charlotte in the early 1960s.
The nine by 40 feet long mural is located on the intersection of West 5th Street and North Bruns Avenue. It depicts key moments in Jones’ life from his younger years as a freedom rider to his days as a local civil rights attorney.
There will be an unveiling ceremony on the 4th floor of the parking deck at Mosaic Village on Saturday at 10 am. A life-size banner of the mural will be displayed for guests to see. The free public event also offer music and food will.
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Jones was born in August 1937 in Chester, South Carolina. His family moved to Charlotte 10 years later and lived in the Biddleville neighborhood.
He later attended Johnson C. Smith University and graduated in 1958.
In February 1960, days after a sit-in at a lunch counter in Greensboro, Jones organized a similar demonstration at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Charlotte. Over 200 students participated.
Jones and several other demonstrators were later arrested at a demonstration, jailed, and served a 30-day sentence of hard labor.
Jones was a founding member of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a key organization that connected young people to the larger civil rights movement.
As field security in SNCC, he traveled throughout the South, helping Black people register to vote, often in the face of barely veiled threats from white police officers and community members. He was arrested twice, both times with Martin Luther King Jr.
Jones graduated from Howard University School of Law in 1966.
That same year, in Washington, D.C., he formed the Action Coordinating Committee to End Segregation in the Suburbs, known as ACCESS.
Jones, as president, identified numerous apartment buildings and housing developments that did not permit black residents.
To protest this, he led a march around D.C.’s opened Capital Beltway for four days.
After living in Washington and Pittsburgh, P.A., Jones moved back Charlotte in the mid-1970s. He worked as a prosecuting attorney before establishing a private law practice focused on civil rights cases.
Jones was active in the Historic West End community and helped establish neighborhood associations to govern the area, which at the time was in turmoil.
He died in Dec. 2019 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 82.
Able Jackson, the mural’s artist, has created a number of murals featuring historical Black figures with local ties, including Julius L. Chambers, Sarah Stevenson and James Ferguson.
He said he was familiar with Jones’ story and didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to create his mural.
“I felt very honored to be able to do that for him,” Jackson said.
Jackson began designing the mural in early August and finished painting in late September.
He said Jones’ work in the local community is often overlooked compared to his time as a freedom rider. The mural will be a constant reminder of his full legacy.
“He captured both the history and the mindset of maintaining the community, sticking with the community, and fighting for the people,” Jackson said.
J’Tanya Adams, executive director of Historic West End Partners, led the process in creating the mural.
Since 2007, Adams worked closely with Jones, who advised her on community projects. She said Jones was always willing to help even in his later years.
“He was always there and always present,” she said. “He was always lending his spirit and knowledge.”
Jones made a lasting impact in the South as well as in the west Charlotte area specifically. Adams said Jones’ recognition is “long overdue.”
“We are honored to be able to bring [this mural] to the community,” she said. “He has more than earned his place in the sun.”
Jacqueline Jones, J. Charles Jones’ wife was in tears when she saw the mural for the first time.
She has seen her husband help to rebuild the community throughout their 30-plus years of marriage. The mural will serve as a reminder.
“He strived for that beloved community, which is where we are at this point in the neighborhood,” she said.
Jones said her husband had a skill for bringing people together for a common cause. And he was willing to help anyone in the community, no matter their background, she said.
J. Charles Jone was a humble man who wasn’t driven by recognition. The opportunity for the community to come together and commemorate his work is something that he would be proud of.
“One of the things he said is, ‘I’m wondering at the end of the day, if anybody thinks this old soul made a difference,” she said.” To honor him now, he would be so happy.”