On Sunday, August 19, Florida State University bid farewell to the man who started its Black Studies Program – and who inspired hundreds of students to spend their lives in pursuit of justice.
He was a world-renowned academic, minister and activist for racial equality. But what Bill Jones did best was teach. He was down to earth – cooking for students, loaning them money to keep them in school. Above all, said Doctor Billy Close, now an FSU professor himself, Jones taught them – regardless of color, gender or orientation – to conquer their doubts.
"He removed the fear. He often said that fear is false evidence that appears real. And if you really understand what's on the inside of you and bring it forth, you will never despise your own stripes."
Harriet Tubman was his greatest hero, but Jones had many. Another was his high-school teacher, Betty Johnson.
"Betty understood the importance of our knowing who we were and the nature of our circumstances. She instructed us in the importance of developing the kind of critical analysis that would accurately diagnose the contours and dynamics of our oppression and the means to overcome it. She helped us to see who we were and what we could become," said Monifa Love, one of many speakers at Jones' memorial service.
That was Jones, too.
Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, the dancer and choreographer, said she learned from Jones to combine her beliefs with her art. For his memorial, she offered a dance called "Give Your Hands to the Struggle." It included a list of those who had fought for racial equality, including Harriet Tubman – and Bill Jones.
"That is the strength and the knowledge that Dr. Jones gave me and so many, to know that this thing, racism, could be undone. It could be dismantled. Maybe not in our lifetime, but if we did the work, it could be undone."
Jones is survived by two sons – Jeff, who spoke at the memorial, and Darrell, who danced in Zollar's piece. Another part of his legacy is FSU's William R. Jones Outstanding Mentor Award for the faculty member who best carries on his tradition, and by his research. Those works have been compiled in a tribute website, www.williamrjones.org, by his colleague, Dan Gerson.