William A. Jones; Preacher Helped Poor, Led Protests
Wednesday, February 8, 2006
The Rev. William A. Jones, 71, a powerful preacher, a civil rights activist and the pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., for more than four decades, died Feb. 5 at his home in Brooklyn. He had complications from a kidney ailment.
At 6 feet 5 inches and 265 pounds and blessed with a sonorous baritone voice, the Rev. Jones had a commanding presence in the pulpit. His was a voice "both prophetic and eloquent," said Bernard Richardson, dean of Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel at Howard University. "He had the ability to talk to people from all walks of life."
In addition to his impassioned pulpit eloquence, he was known for his social activism. In the late 1960s, he headed the New York office of Operation Breadbasket, founded by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to bring jobs and economic opportunity to African Americans living in the big cities of the Northeast and Midwest. He became acting national chairman in 1972 after the resignation of the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
As the first chairman of the New York chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Atlanta-based organization that King co-founded, he led numerous protests, including a boycott of the Atlantic & Pacific grocery store chain. He accused A&P of discriminating against blacks.
Pastor and adviser to preacher-politician Al Sharpton, the Rev. Jones permitted him to make Bethany Baptist Church his headquarters during the 1987 Tawana Brawley incident. Brawley, 15 at the time, claimed that a white man abducted and sexually abused her and wrote racial epithets on her body. A grand jury ruled her story a hoax.
More recently, the Rev. Jones had been preaching racial harmony at churches around the world. His legacy "will be his concern for those who are left out, the downtrodden," said the Rev. Jasper Peyton, interim pastor at Bethany Baptist Church.
William Augustus Jones Jr. was born in Louisville and was proud to be a member of the honorable order of Kentucky Colonels. The son and grandson of Baptist preachers, he grew up in Lexington, Ky. Although he respected the ministry, he had decided as a young man to make the military a career. He was a lieutenant stationed at Fort Knox when he heard the call to preach.
"I was down at the motor pool, actually preaching to the trucks," Jones told the New York Daily News in 1996. "The trucks were my congregation."
He announced his decision the next Sunday from the pulpit of his father's Lexington congregation, the historic Pleasant Green Missionary Baptist Church.
He received a bachelor's degree from the University of Kentucky in 1958 and a bachelor of divinity degree from Crozer Theological Seminary in 1961. He received his doctorate from what is now Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in 1975. He also studied at the University of Lagos in Nigeria and the University of Ghana at Legon.
His first pastorate was at First Baptist Church (Paschal) in Philadelphia, where he served from 1959 until 1962, when he moved to Bethany Baptist. A former president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention and founder of the National Black Pastors' Conference, he retired last September after 43 years at the Brooklyn church.
Survivors include his wife, Natalie Barkley Brown Jones of Brooklyn; four children; three brothers; two sisters; and eight grandchildren.