Decorated World War II veteran and pioneering civil rights lawyer Johnnie Jones Sr. has died at the age of 102.
“We are saddened by the news of the passing,” the Louisiana Department of Veteran Affairs (LDVA) posted on social media Monday. “It was our distinct honor to care for Mr. Jones at our Louisiana Veterans Home where he lived since this past December.”
“We will always be grateful to have played a part in awarding him the Purple Heart he deserved for his injury in combat,” the LDVA said.
Last year, Jones was awarded the Purple Heart by state officials at the Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, according to a June 2021 Veteran Affairs blog post.
“I want to express our deepest respect for your distinguished service, and long overdue recognition of your wounds received during the invasion of Omaha Beach on D-Day,” wrote Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville in a letter to Jones for the award.
“We owe you a debt of gratitude, both for your sacrifices during World War II and for being a role model for African Americans aspiring to serve,” McConville said.
Jones was also honored on March 9, 2020, “by the French government when they presented him their country’s Legion of Honor for his World War II service,” according to the VA.
He graduated from Southern University and was drafted into the Army in 1942. By 1943, he rose to the rank of warrant officer junior grade.
On D-Day, the ship Jones was traveling on “hit a mine and he was blown from the second deck to the first,” the VA said. Jones later said the explosion “blew me sky high into the air.”
Later in the war, he was hit with shrapnel during a bomb attack. And he would face racism when he returned to the US.
While driving in 1946 to New Orleans to get shrapnel removed from his neck, he was pulled over by a White police officer,” according to the VA’s blog post.
“He knocked me down and started kicking me,” Jones said to the VA in an interview. “Things weren’t right. ‘Separate but equal’ was unconstitutional and I wanted to fight it and make it better,” he said.
Jones got his law degree in 1953 and was quickly recruited by the Rev. T.J. Jemison “to help organize the United Defense League’s eight-day bus boycott in Baton Rouge and defend the protesters.
According to the VA, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. used that event to plan his larger yearlong bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, which started in 1955.
“Jones defended students in drugstore sit-ins and others as civil rights protests spread throughout the south. His car was bombed twice,” said the VA post. “I was in the car and got out as it got blown in the air,” he said of the attacks.
“We had to take a firm stand. You only live once, but when you die, you die forever, so I wasn’t going to rest until we could fix things,” he said.
Jones inspired his family to continue his work in law; Jones’ two sons, a daughter and granddaughter became attorneys, according to the VA.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family,” the LDVA said.