The same Mordecai Johnson who inspired legions of students at Howard University for 34 years was also the father of Anna Faith Jones, his youngest daughter. He seems to have set an example at home as well as in public.
But while Johnson was the first black president of Howard and his daughter is the first black director of the Boston Foundation and the only black woman to head a major foundation, Jones is reluctant to draw any comparisons of their trailblazing.
Here to attend the Council on Foundations meeting, which ends today, Jones discussed the past and the present of her life, and she showed an untarnished sense of marvel as she described the thoughts and deeds of her father that pushed her to achievement.
"Often through the years, you would find yourself in the car with him alone and he would hone in on some issue," she said. "One was 'You must prepare yourself to walk through the doors. It isn't going to be easy. It may be painful, certainly for the first ones. But we have to prepare ourselves to do that. If the doors open and nobody walks through them, then they swing shut. And all of your fight has been for naught.' "
Jones, 53, is at the helm of a foundation with a $120 million endowment. It is the fifth largest public foundation in the country and gives an annual $9 million to nonprofit groups.
Her way into the complex and somewhat closed world of foundations was unusual. "My entree was through the old-boy network. My former husband's classmate at Harvard was director of the fund, Fred Glimp."
Before that appointment, Jones had worked as a real estate broker and music librarian at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
After 10 years of working on the foundation's programs, she was chosen director in January.
"What made it so marvelous was that the committee did not make the decision consciously. They did not think, 'Well, it is time for a woman and a black,' " said Jones. "Afterwards, they realized the full ramifications of what this foundation had done, given what was going on in Boston, given racial tensions, given cutbacks in programs for poor and minorities."
Since the federal support for social programs began to decline five years ago, the foundation world has been debating how to respond. The Boston Foundation trimmed its support of arts groups, funding only cultural outreach programs.
Starting in 1981, the foundation financed a program that encourages public housing residents to decide what programs the tenants need. Two years ago they started a Fund for the Homeless to raise money to rehabilitate or acquire 13 shelters. Now the foundation is about to announce a five-year $10 million program to ascertain the impact of modern poverty and find out what the residents feel should be the thrust of the community groups.
"Not only are the poor increasing but the poor are getting poorer," Jones said.
In Boston, which has been racked by bigotry, another responsibility for the foundation is leadership on race relations.
Said Jones: "In about 1981, at the tag end of Kevin White's tenure as mayor, the corporate, religious and political leadership of the city, even the mayor, finally went on record as saying, 'We acknowledge that Boston is a racist community and we need to do something about it.' "
The clear eye that Jones uses to look at social needs comes from her beginnings at Howard. She was born in the old presidential residence on campus, the last of five children, and attended Lucretia Mott Elementary and Banneker Jr. High nearby.
When any of the Johnson youngsters fell down in their studies, her father took over. "You had an appointment with him every day in his study. You didn't want that to happen; my father could be quite a stern taskmaster," she recalled, showing a little shudder.
There were other rules.
"My parents were adamant about -- you know there has always been a controversy about fair and darker skin in the black community. There were blacks who prided themselves that they could go downtown to the theaters and people wouldn't know who they were. That was anathema in my family. You were who you were, you were proud of that, and if you went anywhere, you would go to the black theaters," said Jones.
Her mother, Anna Ethelyn Johnson, had her own brand of economic leverage. "In a supermarket once, she felt the check-out person was rude to her and so she quietly put this huge cart of stuff back on the shelf one by one. Finally the store manager came over and said, 'Please don't do that.' And my mother said, 'I'm very sorry but that young woman down there was rude to me unnecessarily.' She was going to be treated with dignity and respect."
After Banneker, Jones attended Northfield School and her father gave a speech that few forgot. "My father said organized Christianity had failed in carrying out its own beliefs. Here there is a little black man in India, who wears a diaper, who is a Hindu, who is living the precepts of Jesus -- love your enemy so much that you will lay down in front of them and allow them to do violence, rather than allow them to dishonor you by not giving you access to civil rights. People were aghast," she recalled.
But Martin Luther King Jr. credited Johnson for opening his eyes to the teachings of Gandhi. And even on that day in the late 1940s, the impact was much broader.
"I came back to my English class and my teacher had all these words on the board and proceeded to give a lecture on my father's vocabulary. That he did not use words like 'very' and 'too'; that he chose the word with the precise shade of meaning. She had never heard anyone with the range of vocabulary."
When Jones decided on college, she studied music history at Wellesley College and musicology at Columbia University.
"I was Mordecai Johnson's daughter, not Anna Johnson. I elected to go away because it was important to find out who I was," she said. Today some of her professional joy comes from following the example of her father and helping black institutions, like the 35-year-old social service group, Freedom House.
The foundation gave it a challenge grant to help start an endowment. "It is really very exciting because it is the first time a black community institution is going to the community to raise money for an endowment."