Film traces life of Northampton pioneer

Published 7:36 pm Saturday, May 9, 2009

OCCONEECHEE NECK — Lucille Hardy sits calmly in the living room of her home paying no mind to the bright lights, microphone and a camera affixed squarely on her.

Just at the mere sight of a camera crew in Hardy’s small living room, one can tell it’s an unusual day in Occoneechee Neck.

Northampton County in general is, perhaps, the last place you would expect to be the backdrop to a documentary, but recently

Anna Jones along with a camera crew visited the county to film interviews with seven individuals, including Hardy.

Jones is the project director for the tentatively titled, “Chairman Jones: A Portrait of My Father,” a documentary about her father, James H. Jones, the first African American to serve on the Northampton County Board of Education.

“He was a business entrepreneur trapped inside a sharecropper,” Jones said of her father. “He’s remembered as the Martin Luther King Jr. of Northampton County.”

Before his rise as a influential leader in education, James H. Jones’ life was far different.

He was born near Jackson on Longview Plantation in 1916, a time when blacks’ civil rights were still stifled by the Jim Crow South.

Jones said growing up in a family of sharecroppers, her father’s education was eclipsed by farm work as his family struggled within a system that kept them dependent on the landowner.

“Along the way his educational opportunity was taken away and that motivated him to make things different,” said Jones.

Despite his oppressed beginnings, Jones said her father rejected his plight by eventually becoming an independent farmer in the Garysburg and Gaston areas, and eventually a leader and advocate for education.

Jones said her father fought for a quality and equal education for blacks, and at the same time earning the respect from both blacks and whites as a significant leader.

In 1971, an appointment to the Board of Education made Mr. Jones the first African American to serve on the board. He also became the first black to be voted into the board chairman role by his colleagues in 1981.

Jones recalls her father first and foremost as a family man and farmer who expected his eight children to receive and seek out the best education.

“He didn’t allow us to hate, he said it was a useless emotion,” she said. “It was always about education; education is a tool.”

But there was another side to Mr. Jones, one that was determined to make progress within the community.

“He was an encouraging and very understanding person,” she said. “He was not a controversial guy; he would work things out amicably.”

Besides his work on the board of education, Jones said her father was also politically oriented, aligning himself with those who wanted progress in the county.

In 1984, in the height of campaigning for another term on the board, Mr. Jones’ work tragically ended when he was killed in a farming accident.

As the 25th anniversary of her father’s death nears, Jones has thrown herself into the project, with the sponsorship of the Southern Documentary Fund and small seed grant.

Over the past several days, Jones has sat down with Northampton County citizens who knew her father, documenting their stories and memories of his work.

Hardy knew Mr. Jones through his membership at Roanoke Chapel Baptist Church in Occoneechee Neck. Hardy herself has been the director of music for the church for 70 years.

Jones said this was the first leg of filming critical interviews in the county. She hopes, once more funding is collected, to return for more interviews to complete the project.

In the meantime, she’s still identifying those who knew her father or were impacted by his work.

For more information about the film project, contact Jones at (252) 537-5527 or visit Tax deductible donations can be submitted to: Anna Jones, 315 James Jones Road, Pleasant Hill, NC 27866 or on the Southern Documentary Fund website.