COLUMN SEVENTY-ONE, MAY 1, 2002
(Copyright © 2002 Al Aronowitz
A MEMBER OF THE
COYT L. JONES, 1910-2002
the some 40 years I have known Amiri Baraka, I have come to consider him an
ex-officio member of my family and I have come to consider myself an ex-officio
member of his. It makes me proud and honored even to know Amiri, whom I consider
one of America's greatest living poets. And it made me feel especially proud
and honored to accompany him and his wife, Amina, to the gala 90th
birthday party of his father, Coyt, whom I first met many years ago when he was
a postal worker.
so, I felt profoundly bereaved when Coyt, an energetic, socially active and
meticulously organized man until the very last, died of a heart attack at his
Newark home on Sunday, March 11, 2002. Of course, I attended the solemn and
gracious funeral on Monday, March 18, held at the resplendent Bethany Baptist
Church on Newark's West Market Street, where Coyt had been an honored deacon
since the 1980s. But you can read all about that in the following obituary.
the services at the church, presided over by Rev. Dr. M. William Howard Jr., the
Rev. Jesse Jackson made a surprise appearance to address the congregation. Also
addressing the congregation was Newark's Mayor Sharpe James. There were
mournful solos by singer Dwight West, brother of Amina Baraka; a poem of
acknowledgement read by nationally known poet Sonia Sanchez, another one of
Amiri's dear friends; a solo by violinist Billy Bang and a eulogy read by
Amiri, available in SECTION
TWO of COLUMN SEVENTY-ONE of THE BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST.
my dear companion Ida and I joined the police-escorted caravan of automobiles
following the hearse to Graceland Memorial Park in Kenilworth, New Jersey, where
the flower-bedecked coffin was lowered into the ground beneath a tent that
sheltered the attendees from the weeping skies. Rev. Howard had welcomed the
rain to this drought-parched area as the heaven's honor to Coyt.
Amiri had been in the habit of joking I was 'the oldest man in the world." After his father, that is. And I'd joke that Amiri is 'the second oldest man in the world---next to me." That equation has now changed. However unwillingly, we've both moved up a notch.]
the 91-year-old father of fiery political activist Amiri Baraka, one of
America's greatest living poets and certainly the best-known of THE
BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST's contributors, died of a heart attack at his home in
Newark, New Jersey, on Sunday, March 11, 2002.
Born Coyette LeRoy Jones in Hartsville, South Carolina, on November 8, 1910, Mr. Jones later shortened his name to Coyt. Energetic and socially active until his final days, he amazed his family with the meticulous records he kept of the details of his life. For instance, among his effect was a letter from South Carolina's Darlington County Commissioner of Records, dated 1929, in response to Mr. Jones? request for his birth certificate. The letter said that "since there were no records kept before 1916 [for Black folk]? there was no record of this
at the burial
Jones needed the birth certificate for his application for a new job with the
U.S. Postal Service.
A letter from
his mother dated the same year says, "thank you for sending the package and
the money, we needed it. If you get a job driving for the postal service be
careful because there are many accidents."
The son of
George Jones, a minister and bricklayer who was also head chef for the local
Coker College, and of Fannie Jones, a well educated and dignified dressmaker,
Coyt Jones later moved with his parents to Columbia, South Carolina. Also in the
family were Mr. Jones? three sisters, who became High School teachers and
administrators at Benedict College, Allen University and South Carolina State.
Following Mr. Jones? from his South Carolina origins was his family nickname,
came to Newark at age 17, leaving Hartsville suddenly after a spontaneous
discussion with a movie house usher on Civil Rights. Working various jobs, he
met and married the daughter of Thomas Everett Russ, a Newark storekeeper, and
Anna Lois Russ, a Republican politician. Mr.
had another informal name, "Dark Gable".
was a well known city social worker in Newark's Hayes Homes for many years. The
couple had two children, Everett LeRoi, who became Amiri Baraka, the
activist-poet, and Sandra Elaine, who became Kimako Baraka, a Broadway actress,
dancer, and political activist.
Not only did
Mr. Jones get the job with the postal service, but he worked there for more than
30 years, attaining the level of Supervisor, before retiring in 1968.
Coyt & Lois Jones remained a highly visible social duo within the
young black socially conscious and sociable circles in Newark during the "40s
and "50s. Particularly, Mr. Jones? association with the Black Proto-Postal
Union, the National Association of Postal Employees. He and Mrs. Jones belonged
to a host of social organizations. One of these was The Student Council, an
early scholarship-generating organization for Afro-American youth, formed along
with the late Joe Thomas and Chick Strother.
along with Carl Jones and others, also was a founding member of Newark's
legendary Bridge Club. In addition, he was also a well known tournament bowler
and a founding member and consistently re-anointed President of one of Newark's
oldest and most prestigious Bowling Organization, named with not a little irony,
The Nemderolocs, or Colored Men spelled backwards.
"60s when Amiri Baraka and his wife, Amina Baraka, led Newark's African
oriented Committee for Unified Newark and Congress of Afrikan People, Mr.
Jones was proprietor of a popular shop on Clinton Place that specialized in
goods and apparel from Africa. One of the events that transformed Mr. Jones?
consciousness was witnessing his son being brutalized at the hands of Newark
police during the 1967 rebellions. In fact, one of the photos of which he was
most proud was an Ebony magazine shot of him with his newborn grandson
Ras---both of them clad in dashikis---with Ras riding high on his shoulder.
In the "80s
Mr. Jones joined Bethany Baptist Church and, with the same industry and
orderliness that had characterized much of his life, became a much loved and
highly respected Deacon in the church. He also joined the Men's Chorus and
devoted himself to helping create and publicize the widespread good works of the
church. He was, to quote Bethany's
Rev. William Howard, one of the "lights" of the church. He was also
very active in the Senior Citizens association at his Court Street residence.
his acquaintances as a raconteur, a storyteller and a droll humorist, Mr. Jones
liked to call his famous son "McGee" after the old radio hero of the
"Fibber McGee & Molly Show."
Mr. Jones? survivors in addition to his son, Amiri Baraka, include three sisters, Gottlieb Harvest, Georgia Elam and Elise Martin of Columbia, South Carolina; nine grandchildren, Kellie and Lisa Jones of New York, Dominique Cespedes of Los Angeles, Maria Jones of Washington, D.C., Obalaji Baraka, Ras Baraka, Shani Baraka, Amiri Baraka Jr., and Ahi Baraka of Newark; and three great-grandchildren. His nieces and nephews include Loretta Green of Palo Alto, California; Montez Martin of South Carolina; Percy Harvest of Newark; George Harvest and his two sons, Gary and Keith Harvest of Orange. Mr. Jones also leaves his devoted friend of the last decade, Ms. Arlene Tyson. ##
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