Interviews

Fighting Fire with Fire

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Mr. Welton “Deacon” Jones, son of James Robert and Minnie Lee Jones, lives in Raleigh, NC. His parents, both children of sharecroppers, had no formal education beyond the 4th grade. They worked hard and made an honest living–his father, as a janitor, and his mother, a laundry presser.

Mr. Jones’s daughter and I work together. One day she started talking about her father’s challenges as a Raleigh firefighter. I knew I had to get an interview, and his daughter happily obliged. When Mr. Jones was hired in 1963, he was only the second African American firefighter in the city. Twenty-five years later, he was the first to retire.

The Jones’s house reminded me of a typical, middle class home with a sitting room, pictures of family members hanging on the wall, nice furniture, and a festive kitchen. Mr. Jones’s wife and granddaughter were watching television when I arrived. The two of us left the room for another area of the house. We ended up in what I can only label as a “man cave,” my obvious conclusion from the huge Tuskegee Airmen poster, record player, and the pristine “old school” collection of records.

I could tell Mr. Jones had long-awaited an opportunity to share these stories of discrimination and triumph. In fact, this interview reminded me why I started this project–to collect the untold stories and to dispel idealized myths held by younger generations about the life after desegregation.

Near the end of the interview, Mr. Jones shared the contents of a postcard he received. It read, “Mr. Jones, Discrimination is a way of life in North Carolina, including when it comes to the Americans with Disabilities act, so get use to it.” Sad commentary, but many endured these discriminatory acts to afford us today’s freedoms. Much respect to Mr. Jones, A.K.A “Deacon.”

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