George Jones, the preacher not the country music star, put some harmony in Beaufort when not everyone was singing from the same hymnal.
The Rev. George Alexander Jones was still charging when he passed away Feb. 12 at age 95 at home in Hendersonville, N.C. The newspaper there said his county had lost an icon.
In a way, so did we, even though Jones left here in 1970.
Jones was pastor at the Baptist Church of Beaufort for 15 years, beginning in 1955. Those were tough years, when leadership and courage were constantly under fire in a society fractured by prejudice and war.
When you trust biblical principles, biblical people will go with you.
The Rev. George A. Jones
And even though the tension has been dialed back from the era of white hoods and flaming draft cards, people here are still yearning for some of the stuff Jones and his colleagues made happen.
Gullah natives of Hilton Head Island recently told an out-of-town visionary that what this town needs is a return to the day when we had a community association. People might not agree with each other, they said, but at least they would be talking to one another.
In the spring of 1968, when three blacks were killed and 28 injured right up the road in the Orangeburg Massacre, Beaufort County took preventive measures and Jones was in the thick of it.
He was chairman of the Beaufort County Community Relations Council when it was created by the county Legislative delegation (James M. Waddell, W. Brantley Harvey Jr. and J. Wilton Graves) and the Beaufort City Council under Mayor Monroe Key.
They didn’t play softball. They took whacks at the imminent integration of the schools. They were concerned about the unequal pay of black and white teachers, unequal school facilities and the lack of compliance with 1954 and 1955 Supreme Court rulings banning segregation. They looked at poverty that was being taken as a given when it should have been alarming.
When we talked two years ago, Jones said keeping the peace in Beaufort took cooperation. Among those he praised from the black community were the Washingtons, Willie Pigler and Joe Wright. He praised the mayor, police chief, sheriff and community leaders like G.G. Dowling as being good people who simply were not going to allow violence.
“On segregation, they were following the tempo of the times, but they saw a need for change and we changed it,” Jones said.
A couple of years ago, I served on a “beloved community” panel discussion on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The audience concluded that Hilton Head needed to return to a day when it had a ministerial alliance to help guide the community.
Jones headed the Beaufort Ministerial Union, which organized a community memorial service at Freedom Mall when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. It wasn’t a popular thing to do, but it helped keep the peace.
He was the ringleader for an ecumenical community prayer service when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
He had the Baptists and Catholics worshiping together when such a thing was unheard of nationally.
His late wife, Evelyn, was the first white teacher at Robert Smalls Elementary School. And she and the late Dru Graves led the Baptist church’s brave move in 1963 to provide social and religious services for migrant workers.
Jones took a leadership role in Beaufort’s first zoning and municipal protection of historic buildings.
He was a leader in the group that established “Bayview Geriatric Center” to address the needs of the elderly, and he directed it for one year.
When Jones retired from Baptist church work in 1984, he took off for a world mission, telling a reporter he planned to work “for at least another 30 years.”
At 93, he was going to his office four days a week at the Henderson County (N.C.) Genealogical and Historical Society, which he founded.
Not everybody in Beaufort sang out of his hard-charging, data-driven hymnal, and he knew that.
“When you trust biblical principles,” he said, “biblical people will go with you.”