One April day in 1948, a young Eldrin Bell was one of the hundreds of witnesses to Atlanta history when eight men walked down Auburn Avenue as the city’s first black police officers.
“The street was crowded,” Bell said. “They couldn’t change at the precinct, so they had to dress at the Butler Street YMCA. They walked out of the YMCA, walked to the corner of Bell Street and Auburn Avenue, one of them picked up the call box and they reported to work.”
Johnnie P. Jones was one of those men, just 29 at the time, and since 2000 he has held the distinction of being the last surviving member of that group of eight.
Johnnie Paul Jones Sr., of Savannah, died Wednesday at Candler Hospital from complications of congestive heart failure. He was 93. A funeral is planned for 11 a.m. Tuesday at First African Baptist Church, Savannah. Burial at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery will follow the service. Adams Funeral Services, Savannah, is in charge of arrangements.
By the time Jones joined the police force he’d completed some course work at Morehouse College and served in the Army during World War II. He was also married, and would eventually have two daughters with his first wife.
“He was able to join the police force because of the work he did at Morehouse,” said his daughter Elmira Jones Williams, of East Point. “Back in that day, black officers had to have some college, even though some of the white officers could barely read and write.”
Jones grew up in Atlanta and was a graduate of Washington High School. He went to Morehouse right after high school, but his studies were interrupted by the war. He served in the South Pacific and returned to Atlanta after he was discharged. He was working for a butcher shop when he applied, along with 100 others, to integrate the city’s police force. Once he passed the written test the department administered, he had to take classes at John Marshall Law School and police training classes, Williams said.
“And after all of that, he still couldn’t arrest white people,” she said. “He didn’t like that, because he felt if he could risk his life in the South Pacific, serving his country, he shouldn’t come back and be treated like a second-class citizen.”
Jones left the department after three years, and in 1953 moved to Savannah after he married his second wife the former Parnell Mines, a nurse there. The couple celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary last month. In Savannah, Jones finished his degree at Savannah State and got a job with the Chatham County housing authority, which he held for 20 years. He also served on the Chatham County-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission, and was the first back chairman of the commission, his daughter said.
“He not only made history in Atlanta, but in Savannah too,” Williams said. “But he was amazed and surprised that he was the last of that group of eight from Atlanta. I don’t think he ever imagined he’d be the last one.”
In addition to his wife and daughter Jones is survived by daughter, Estella Jones Miller of Atlanta; son, Johnnie Paul Jones Jr. of Savannah; nine grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.