James H. Jones (1916-1984)

In 1957, Northampton County opened Squire Elementary, a new school for Black children, already inadequate when it was built—four two-room schools were consolidated into one eight-room building—with no library, no cafeteria, not enough classrooms, and other glaring deficiencies. At the first PTA meeting they elected James H. Jones as president.  He began to mobilize the large constituency of Black people at Squire who were using their own money to provide resources that the white schools receive free. Jones pushed  parents cowered by the Jim Crow culture to register to vote,  take a stand on split school sessions, and to lobby the school board members for improvements and resources to make Squire an exemplary school.

He appointed independent farmers, Prince Hall Masons and business men to committees to speak for Squire PTA and make appeals at school board meetings. He knew that political power was linked to the ballot box and education linked to politics.  The Squire consolidation provided him with a seedbed for activism and his independence from sharecropping allows him to launch a decades-long campaign to grow Black voting strength, open access to quality education, and eliminate the unfair Jim Crow practice that required Black students to attend school six weeks during the summer so they could harvest cotton and peanut crops in the fall. White students did not.  He became a community spokesman.

In 1969, states all over the South were in turmoil over school desegregation. Northampton County defiantly took its case to Federal Court refusing to follow the Supreme Court’s decision to integrate public schools. Judge John D. Larkins, Jr.  ordered Northampton’s School Board to submit a plan to integrate. The inert all-white school board made no plan and simply ignored Black leaders.  Racial tensions reached a boiling point.  As the crisis intensifies, three NAACP leaders, James H. Jones, Clifton Manley, and Jack Faison walked into the school board meeting on a cold January evening. They addressed the school board with veiled threats of disturbance and future retaliation at the polls if they are not allowed to participate in the plan for carrying out the Judge’s orders. They became an Advisory Committee of three and designed the integration plan implemented in Northampton County.  

At the height of racial tensions in 1971, having stood down threats from hate groups, having lost two elections for school board, James H. Jones’ appointment as the first black school board member in the County was historic. This was a highlight of the civil rights movement in Northampton. His work had just begun. 

Black and white headshot portrait of an African American man (James H. Jones) with gray hair wearing a light-colored suit and tie. School library bookshelf in background.
James H. Jones, courtesy of Anna Jones



Judge Perry Martin (d. 2020) Former attorney and state legislator who worked both sides of the school integration issue during the 1960s and 1970s.

Melvin Broadnax, (d. 2012)), Former, educator, Mayor of Seaboard, NC, Trusted Envoy for Secret Black Group, The Ten.

Anna Jones, daughter, director of film, Chairman Jones: An Improbable Leader, 2015 https://chairmanjones.com
Squire Elementary School PTA, Minutes of Meeting, July 29, 1957.  

“School Desegregation Plan Presented to Northampton,” Northampton County News (Jackson), February 6, 1969.

“Negro and Woman Named in School Legislation,” Northampton County News (Jackson), June 24, 1971.

“The Long Black Freedom Struggle in Northampton County, NC, 1930s to 1970s,” by Jerry Gershenhorn and Anna Jones, The North Carolina Historical Review, January 2020