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- Charles Jones oral history interview 1, 2005 May 18
Charles Jones oral history interview 1, 2005 May 18
J. Charles Jones--civil rights activist, Freedom Rider, and founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)--recounts his early life growing up in the Carolinas and his involvement in the civil rights movement. A native of Chester, South Carolina, he describes the strict social divide between whites and blacks living in small southern towns and the constant threat of physical violence for African Americans. While attending Johnson C. Smith University, he was active in student government, which led to his involvement in the larger national student political movement starting in the late 1950s. Mr. Jones discusses his experiences as a delegate to the 7th World Festival of Youth and Students for Peace and Friendship in Vienna, Austria, highlighting his debate with Paul Robeson Jr. on the merits of democracy versus communism and his experiences of African American expat culture in Europe. Because the youth festival was organized by the Soviet Union, Jones's participation drew the attention of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and he describes what it was like having to testify in order to prevent being labeled as a communist by the government and by the media. Mr. Jones describes the powerful effect that reports of the Greensboro sit-in had on him while returning home from testifying in Washington, D.C., citing this as the motivating force behind his decision to start a lunch counter sit-in in Charlotte. Mr. Jones describes the first day of the Charlotte sit-ins and how students and the local media looked to him as a spokesman of the movement due to his heightened media profile. Mr. Jones, a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), continues with a discussion of his civil rights work on the national level, including his activism as one of the Rock Hill Four, who were responsible for SNCC's "Jail No Bail" policy. He also recounts his harrowing experience as a Freedom Rider, and his deep realization of extreme danger and isolation that characterized civil rights activism in Mississippi during 1961. Mr. Jones describes his role in McComb, Mississippi, where he reported on the brutal treatment of student protesters from Burglund High School to the outside world, which prompted his request for help from Robert Kennedy. Explaining that he had to go into hiding to prevent being captured by the police or the Ku Klux Klan, he recalls his first meeting with Assistant Attorney General John Doar and the horror Jones felt upon learning that Doar was also being tracked by the Klan and feared for both their lives. Finally, Mr. Jones reflects on the responsibility he feels in ensuring that history records the experiences of the students and activists who challenged the racist Southern establishment and prevailed.