UD The Paul R. Jones Collection
About Paul JonesBiographical Notes

For a complete biograpy, see the Biography pdf file

Paul Raymond Jones was born on June 1, 1928, to Will and Ella Jones. The family lived in the Muscoda community of Bessemer, Ala., a mining camp owned by the Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Co.—a subsidiary of U.S. Steel. “We had a company store, dispensary, school, baseball team, you name it,” Jones recalls. “It was like a big family made up of people from rural Alabama—tenant farmers, people who worked the cotton and corn fields. Some might say a form of slavery still existed in the South, but Bessemer brought some sort of relief from that.”

Polished Up North
On matters of education and child rearing, Will Jones sometimes found himself outvoted by his wife and her four daughters. Such was the case when Ella made up her mind that young Paul should go north to school.

“When I was in fourth or fifth grade, we went to New York City to see the World’s Fair,” Jones recalls. “We stayed with my father’s son from his first marriage. Well, my mother was impressed by the school system up there. When we came back, she and my sisters, who were much older and teaching school at the time, huddled and all decided that I should go to school in New York. My father didn’t want me to leave home, but he was outvoted.

“Soon, I lost my southern accent and picked up a northern ‘brogue,’ and when I would return home in the summer, people would gather around just to hear me talk. That helped me learn to live in two different necks of the woods.” By high school, Jones was living at home again, playing football and running track, making good use of his highly competitive nature. In his senior year, he was chosen to take a series of statewide academic exams and scored in the top 3 percent of all students in the state, earning an academic scholarship for college. He also was awarded an athletic scholarship. Up until this point, his encounters with racism hadn’t left many scars, but all that was about to change as he headed off to college.

Jim Crow Strikes
After high school, Jones received a scholarship to Alabama State University, where he was president of the freshman class, president of his fraternity pledge club, halfback on the football team and played the drum in the marching band. After two years, he decided to try and get into law school at the University of Alabama.

Initial responses to his queries were encouraging and cordial. Later, as Jones completed his undergraduate education at Howard University in Washington, D.C., the law school changed its mind, and a letter from the dean of admissions, dated Feb. 4, 1949, had a decidedly different tone:

"While this may be gratuitous, I am adding that we at the University of Alabama are convinced that relationships between the races, in this section of the country at least, are not likely to be improved by pressure on behalf of members of the colored race in an effort to gain admission to institutions maintained by the State for members of the white race. On the contrary, we feel that inter-racial relationships would suffer if there is insistence that the issue be joined at this time. The better elements of both races deplore anything that tends to retard or jeopardize the development of better relationships between the races. For these reasons, therefore, we hope that you can persuade yourself not to press further your application for admission here."

With his plans for a law career dashed, Jones stayed at Howard for a year of graduate work. Then, with funds running low, he decided to return home.

Early Government Experience
Back in Bessemer, young Jones first worked as the executive of the Birmingham Interracial Committee of the Jefferson County Coordinating Council for Social Forces, what was then known as the Community Chest. The position allowed him to recognize some of his political aspirations with the powerful and highly visible appointment.

Jones later worked in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service, helping ease tensions during the civil rights struggle of the 1960s. He earned a national reputation for his work in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Model Cities Program and served as a deputy director of the Peace Corps in Thailand.

The Collector
Ben Apfelbaum, who curated the exhibition “Paul Jones Collects” at the Tubman Museum in Macon, Ga., writes, “Early in the ‘60s, Paul Jones bought his first art at a low-end shopping mall—three small scale prints—one each of works by Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas and Chagall. He then bought three unstained frames, a paintbrush and paint to prepare them for his walls.”

On the heels of that first purchase, Jones learned about Hale Woodruff and the national juried show of African-American art at Atlanta University.

“The Atlanta University annual event was of immense importance for the field in general, and in the case of Paul Jones, for the collector as well,” Apfelbaum writes.

Although it was tradition for the university to purchase the work judged best of show, other sales were rare, and it became tradition for organizers to call Jones to let him view both the juried art and the works that had not been selected for the show.

Over the years, both his collection and his reputation grew, and soon artists were beating a path to Jones’ door. During those years, as he decided to focus on young and mid-career African-American artists, Jones says he was part collector and part social worker.

“During the 20 years that I have known him, Mr. Jones has been more than the source of next month’s rent or the next meal, but also the sole provider of a reason why, at a critical moment, an artist decided to continue in the profession,” Amalia Amaki, artist and art historian, wrote in the Tubman catalog.

“For an artist, being in the Paul Jones Collection is meaningful, whether your reputation is local, regional or national. In addition to countless opportunities to have your work appear in exhibitions mounted from the collection nationwide, presence in his home alone offers tremendous exposure of the work of an artist to museum staff, gallery owners, art historians, fellow artists and other collectors,” Amaki writes.

In his own words, Jones says, “Early on, I had to determine a focus for my collection and sought to fill the gap created by museum that were not acquiring art by African Americans. With the exception of a blockbuster African-American show once every five years or so, American galleries were not including the works of artists of color in their exhibitions.
“I decided to focus on those artists—to give their art work exposure and, hopefully, impact their futures.

“Pretty soon, I had art on my walls, in closets and under the beds. Before I knew it, I had a couple hundred pieces, than I had 500 pieces and now, heavens to Betsy, here we are with 1,000 pieces of art—drawings, paintings, three-dimensional works and a large body of photography.

"Every man is a volume" artwork

© The Paul R. Jones Collection
University of Delaware