Monday, December 08, 2008

Paul Jones in the News Again

Some time ago I wrote about Paul Jones the art collector (not Sally's Paul Jones (a.k.a. "The Real Paul Jones")). I wrote about him because many, many years after he was denied admission to the University of Alabama's law school, for no better reason than his race, the University of Alabama gave him an honorary degree. The degree was not so much to make amends but in honor of his accomplishments as an art collector.

Dr. Jones has a long history with Alabama--while an official in President Nixon's education department, he awarded a multi-million dollar grant for extension education to the University of Alabama; and more recently he has donated a significant part of his art collection to the University. This is yet more evidence of the ways that, over the course of a lifetime, things change. It reminds me of a story Dr. Jones told me of his childhood growing up in Bessemer, Alabama. He sometimes went with his parents to the Bright Star--a legendary restaurant that's still in operation in Bessemer. I highly recommend it next time you're in Birmingham. Because those were the days of Jim Crow, Jones' family could not go in the front door--but the proprietor would set up a table in the back and the Jones came in the back door. That was a courageous position for the restaurant in those days, I am reliably informed.

Some years ago I asked Dr. Jones whether he'd been back. And he said "yes. It's still a great restaurant. [Pause] And this time I went in the front door!" Ah, what changes he's witnessed over his lifetime--and what changes he's been a part of, and contributed to as well. It's an important lesson of foregiveness and of moving forward. As we say in the historical memory business, we are far too often burdened by memory.

So you can imagine my surprise when a reader of Greenespace wrote me recently to tell me about another recent story in which Paul Jones figured. During the 1972 presidential election, Dr. Jones was in charge of President Nixon's campaign to get out the black vote. In that capacity he approached Sammy Davis, Jr. Amidst the recent talk of the release of Nixon tapes, there's a story about a letter that Paul Jones wrote about his meeting with Davis. The Orange County Recorder reports:

Campaign workers talked to Davis about supporting Nixon in January 1972. "The entertainer's reaction was that he has not chosen sides and is 'hanging loose,'" said a memo sent that month by campaign staffer Paul Jones to the re-election committee. "He indicated wanting to see 'what is in it' – which was spelled out to mean something 'for the people' – not for himself."

Another example of the unexpected outdoing itself in its power to surprise, as Ralph Ellison said!