By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"Harrison Jones is the one got hurt down here. Damn right."
Lemme tell you, white man,
Lemme tell you, honey,
Nigger makes de cotton,
White folks gets de money.
Ef you work all de week
An' work all de time,
White man sho' to bring a
Nigger out behin'.
John A. and Alan Lomax, American Ballads and Folk Songs (New York, 1934)
The stories about Jones' fate start at different places, but they all end in the same way. Everyone who remembers says Jones was dragged from his house by white men and beaten, and injuries from the beating--not tuberculosis--caused his death in the early morning hours of August 1951.
The stories differ when they try to explain why these white men took it upon themselves to beat this man. Some, like Parsons, say Jones was accused of looking at a white woman's legs displayed in a short skirt. In another version, Jones was supposedly fooling around with a married white woman. One story even said he molested a white high school girl. Chances are none of those accounts are true and were fabricated after the fact, maybe as some sort of justification for the murder. The more convincing reason, the reason told by members of Jones' own family and the woman on the porch, seems to be that Jones owed money to a white man in town. While Jones was working for the Parsons family to earn food and a house, the man in town got impatient for his money. Whatever it was, the white men came for Jones just like they had fearlessly come for other blacks in the South's horribly violent past. Parsons' father told him what happened the next day.
"He said four black cars pulled up in front of Harrison's house last night, and the men went in and they drug him out," Parsons recalls.
Parsons heard that the men took Jones with them and then beat him with baseball bats, wagon spokes, or clubs until he was near death. They broke a rib that punctured a lung, relatives say. Parsons said he heard that the men poured a bottle of whiskey on Jones, then left him on the railroad tracks that ran through Ladonia until they were ripped up and sold for scrap iron a couple of years ago. The men hoped the morning train would come through and destroy the evidence, but the train didn't come that night, and Jones was either found or stumbled home.
"Word of mouth went around that they claimed that the train ran over him. They were going to say he was drunk on the tracks," Parsons says. "The black people went and got the body, and they just had a funeral. That was just in-house and private, and they were all afraid to talk about."
Parsons says he vividly remembers his brother saying he was told that the blacks in Ladonia were going to have to "funeralize" Harrison after the beating.
"My father was very angry about it and very upset," he says.
The second woman on the porch knows the story, too, and she gets fervent in its telling.
"Those damn boys got together, and they took him out and beat him. Shit. He wasn't never any damn thing but good. Ever.
"The only thing his wife said was that he owed them some money," she says. "They beat the hell out of him. Sheriff wouldn't do shit. They thought it was all right."
Bogar corroborated the story and laughed at the idea that Jones died from tuberculosis.
"They broke his ribs," he says while sitting on a couch in his modest Fort Worth house, where a television blares a soap opera, and pressed shirts and half of a broken mirror hang from the wall. "They punctured his lungs. He didn't have no tuberculosis."
No newspaper wrote about Jones, and apparently no one investigated. Catherine Jones was threatened with her life if she talked, so she didn't. Bogar says his sister told him what happened and that she was terrified for her children.
Catherine Jones buried her husband and a short time afterward moved what was left of her family out of Ladonia. Soon after they moved, their shack burned down, one family member says. Catherine Jones told her four young children that a car fell on their father, and that's the story she took to the grave after dying of leukemia in 1979.
"She thought if it got out, they would beat up her family and get her and her kids," her clear-speaking, solidly built brother says as he closes his bluish eyes and rubs the top of his mostly bald head with one hand. "She knew I wasn't going to broadcast it. It was for the sake of her kids."
Harrison Wendell Jones pulls his weathered, pea-green 1970 Volkswagen Beetle to the curb. He gets out and stands, leaning over to look at the meter in front of the offices of the Dallas Observer. A short-haul driver of 18-wheel tractor-trailers, the 57-year-old Jones is a large and sturdy man whose doctor says he needs to lay off the greasy foods. Nicely dressed in a long-sleeve polyester black shirt and slacks, the gray-headed Jones extends a hand. Maybe it's nerves, or an affable personality similar to the kind attributed to his father, but Jones doesn't seem a terribly serious man. He laughs with little prompting. Bogar says his nephew's jocular façade is a result of the distance Harrison Jones wants to keep from the reality of his father's fate. Learning what had been hidden from him all these years was a jolt, and Jones wants to put it in its proper place.