By Xavier James
“He loved his family. He loved his community. He was my hero,” said Angella Jones, remembering her brother protecting her. “One summer day I was really young and I was being bullied by an older guy. I got in one good sucker punch and it knocked him on his ass. Because of the embarrassment from that he whooped my ass. My brother Dwight was there for me when I came home crying. Dwight went back out and whooped his ass. He took care of his little sister.”
Dwight Jones was born on Dec. 29, 1950, in St. Petersburg, Florida to Susie Walker and Daniel Jones. He was one of six children.
Jones was killed on Sept. 28, 1971 while serving in the United States military, and he is survived by his two sisters, Mary and Angella.
In 1968, Jones graduated from St. Petersburg High. While in school, he was an all-around athlete. He loved basketball, football, track and field. He played football briefly in high school and was a member of the track team.
Jones had a passion for mentoring neighborhood children. He fostered pride within his people by organizing Black culture groups that showcased the accomplishments of African Americans. He was one of the founders of the Black Brothers and Sisters of the Northside organization, and served as president. Being a part of the Black Brothers and Sisters Organization meant you had a social consciousness.
Dwight Jones. Photo courtesy of Angella Jones.
“The whole purpose of this organization was to advocate and lobby for changes in the community of Methodist Town,” said Dr. Goliath Davis, St. Petersburg’s first African American Police chief and a fellow Methodist Town resident, describing the mission of the organization.
Jones grew up on 259 Jackson St. Davis grew up across the street from Jones on 282 Jackson St. Jones and Davis used to go fishing and crabbing by the old St. Petersburg Pier.
“They used to come back and cook the crabs in a big silver tub. They would drink beer and share crabs with people in their community,” said Angella reminiscing about Jones' relationship with Davis.
They grew up together fostered by the natural sense of solidarity instilled within the Methodist Town community.
Due to segregation, Methodist Town was deprived of a higher quality of life. Instead of complaining about the unfair treatment, Jones decided to do something about it.
Through the Black Brothers and Sisters Organization and under the mentorship of Erma Washington—a fellow Methodist Town resident—Jones and Davis attended city hall meetings to protest the conditions of their neighborhood.
“We had the enthusiasm and the energy, but we didn’t really have the know-how when it came to dealing with city officials,” said Davis, speaking of Washington’s mentorship.
Washington was a regular attendee of city council meetings, advocating for the people of Methodist Town whenever she could.
“She liked our enthusiasm and took us under her wing.”
Jones and Davis butted heads with city officials over the city’s neglect of Methodist Town. The community was plagued by squalid housing, unpaved streets and roads dimmed by darkness.
Jones used the Black Brothers and Sisters Organization to lobby for a city-sponsored recreation center, which would provide a safe space for children. Though the council listened to his request, no action was taken.
While maintaining his activism, Jones continued on through school and attended St. Petersburg Junior College. He was active in organizations on campus. In 1970, he later went to the University of West Florida with his friend Robert Parham where they were shot by a group of white men in a racially motivated attack.
He moved back to St. Petersburg where he was drafted by the Army in March 1971. Jones had a moral conscience about going to report for war. The night before Jones was shipped out, he sat on the corner with Davis and asked him if he should report or go to Canada. “I can't make that decision for you,” Davis said.
Jones eventually decided to serve. He was reluctant to go because Jones had zero interest in committing senseless murders for the sake of other people's freedom when his own freedom was not guaranteed. Jones left for boot camp in August 1971. One month later, he was killed in action on Sept. 28, 1971.
“I still get as emotional about it as if it happened yesterday. My last memory of my brother was giving him a hug while he was in his uniform. He was going up the escalator while looking back at his family,” said Angella remembering her brother.
His mother tried to bury him at Royal Palm Cemetery South, but he was denied due to the color of his skin, despite the fact that he’d died serving his country. Jones was ultimately buried at the Chapel Hill Memorial Park in Largo. He posthumously received the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal and the Vietnam Campaign Medal on March 12, 1972.
A housing and urban development group in 1977 donated a grant of almost $4 million that went toward housing and a community building. The project would go on to be the Dwight H. Jones community center. The city-sponsored center Jones fought for while being a part of the Black Brothers and Sisters of the Northside Organization was finally made.
“We had to remember one of our own. Jones was one of us,” said Davis.
Grave site of Dwight Jones and his Mother, Susie Walker. Photo courtesy of Angella Jones.