By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
"It's too emotional," Bogar says.
Jones doesn't remember much of his father or of Ladonia. He was only 7 years old in 1951, and like his one surviving brother and sister, his memories are faded. (His sister Edith Faye Moore was a 10 at the time and does not remember the events. Her other brother could not be reached.)
"I used to bring back the water. They had a well. That water was cool. That always was cool," Harrison Jones says. "That was in Ladonia."
When Jones was first contacted in Dallas several months ago as part of the Observer's investigation into the veracity of Parsons' story, he seemed to put off the question of his father's death. A falling car killed his father, he said. It sounds like you've got the wrong guy. Must be a different Jones.
"My mother told me that a car fell on him, and he died, and no one ever said anything different," he said then.
Contacted a second time more recently, Jones told a different story, and this time he was more interested. He had talked to Bogar, who said the story about the car falling was fabricated by Catherine Jones to protect him and her other children. The uncle told him that the truth was that his father was beaten to death by white men.
"I said, 'After all these years, why didn't you tell me that?' He said, 'Because your mother said not to. Your mother didn't tell you, and so I didn't want to tell you because we made an agreement,'" he says.
Bogar told Jones that his father was a sharecropper and that because there was no work in the winter, he was forced to borrow money and accumulated debt that became impossible to repay.
"He worked with a guy sharecropping. He said that in the wintertime, you don't have nothing to do, and he wanted to take care of his family, take care of us, so he borrowed money...They know he'd pay them back. I guess they did it all the time. I don't know. They'd borrow money just to make it through the winter.
"I think he was working for one guy to pay him back and hadn't got to them [the killers] yet, and so I guess they must have gotten angry about it," Jones says.
After the beating, the family was threatened, Jones says matter-of-factly. "They said if you tell anybody, we're going to kill your whole family."
Catherine Jones eventually moved to Dallas. She didn't remarry, and she supported her family by working as a housekeeper. She never said a word about the beating.
"I guess she didn't want to tell us because maybe the kids would get into a problem themselves," Jones says. "Laying on her death's bed, she didn't tell us."
In 1997, in an effort to explain why he is such a "gadfly" to an editor, Parsons wrote a guest column called "An Unforgettable Life Experience" for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
It said in part, "As a member of the Northwest Arkansas Community College board of trustees, I know that the college officials and others must wonder why I become so vocal when events of injustice, prejudice, intolerance, denial, or censorship of free speech occur at the college."
He went on to describe the killing of Jones and how it changed the course of his life. Although Parsons had first names and some other minor things wrong in his commentary, an investigation into his allegations proved that substantive parts of what he said appear to be supported in the public record and by those who remember. Among those who corroborate Parsons' tale are surviving members of the Jones' immediate and extended families as well as nonfamily members.
The whites in town who were asked about Jones had no recollection of the story or the man, but why would they? In the first part of the 20th century, whites in the South were notorious for continuing a long tradition of black intimidation through brutality. Most of those crimes were secrets kept by victims' families, who feared more violence against them. Although the numbers are unknown, those who study such things say thousands of blacks were murdered just like Jones and that the crimes were simply buried with the bodies and forgotten.
One of the very few of such crimes that recently came to light--after more than 40 years--was the random killing of a 25-year-old black mother of 10 children in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1964. The woman, Johnnie Mae Chappell, was shot to death as she looked for a lost wallet while Jacksonville exploded in racial riots. Chappell, who was miles away from the racial unrest in the city, was killed by whites who said they were disgusted with the riots and were out to get a "nigger" that day, according to the St. Petersburg Times. Only the doggedness of a family member who didn't want her mother remembered as a "nobody" killed on the side of the road finally brought the tragedy to light. Unlike in the Jones case, four white men were indicted for shooting Chappell. One served three years in prison; charges against the others were dropped. Chappell was recently memorialized as a martyr in the civil rights movement by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit Alabama group that fights racial injustice.