Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Clarence Jones and MLK

                                Clarence Jones takes notes behind Martin Luther King, Jr.

Clarence Jones, an influential civil rights lawyer and close aide and associate of Martin Luther King, Jr., has written a book “Behind the Dream,” the story of King’s famous March on Washington speech at Lincoln Memorial in the summer of 1963.

Besides preparing the notes for the speech, and ensuring it was copyrighted, Jones stood by King when the speech was delivered, and his book tells the story of how it all came about.

Now a scholar in residence at the MLK Center at Stanford University, Jones has recently done some radio interviews with BBC and National Public Radio in which he recounts some of what is in the book.

Most interesting is the background of Clarence Jones himself.

Born in Philadelphia, Jones’ parents were live-in domestic servants in an apparently well to do Philadelphia home, so young Jones was sent off to a Catholic boarding school where most of the students were orphans, educated by Irish nuns who Jones credits with teaching him how to write well.

One summer however, while visiting his parents at the summer home of their employer in Longport, at the Jersey Shore, he went for a bike ride, only to be intercepted by some young white boys who harassed him, calling him “nigger,” “honkey,” “boogaloo,” “monkey,” and things that he had never been confronted with before.

When his mother found him crying, and he told her why, she made him look in a mirror and asked what he saw – telling him “you are the most beautiful thing in God’s creation,” and such taunting no longer affected him as it did that day in Longport.

Having been educated so well by the Irish nuns, Jones attended Columbia University and after being drafted and given an undesirable discharge for refusing to sign an anti-Communist loyalty oath, he studied law and became a lawyer.

Moving to California, one day in 1960 Martin Luther King visited him at home, and tried to persuade him to assist him in defending against a trumped up tax evasion case, but Jones turned him down because his wife was pregnant and he didn’t want to move back east.

After being berated by his wife however, Jones attended the church service where King gave the sermon on the subject of the responsibilities of black professionals to assist other less fortunate blacks, after which Jones joined King’s legal team.

To hear the NPR interview with Clarence Jones, or read the transcript:

Clarence Jones is now in residence at Stanford MLK Center:

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