Killed in Vietnam
Dwight Jones On Sept. 28, 1971, Jones died in a Viet Cong attack on his tank. He was 20.
"A Promising Life Cut Short" by SCOTT TAYLOR HARTZELL Published St. Pete Times 2004.
At St. Petersburg High School, Jones ran track and organized the St. Petersburg High Black Culture Organization. His focus, however, was the Black Brothers and Sisters of the Northside Organization, which he founded with Goliah Davis and his brother, Reginald L. Jones.
Jones tutored neighborhood children. He instilled pride within his peers by organizing black culture groups that showcased African-Americans' accomplishments.
"There was blatant hostility and racism then," said one of Jones' five siblings, Yvonne Jones-Brown. "You can either go nuts or do something about it. Dwight did something about it." Jones butted heads with city officials over their neglect of Methodist Town, a black neighborhood now known as Jamestown that is bounded by First Avenue S and Fifth Avenue N, Ninth to 16th streets. Housing was squalid. Many streets were unpaved and absent of streetlights.
Dwight was shot at when he tried to move in as a freshman at the University of West Florida, so Jones returned home. Six months later, he was drafted into the Army. He was killed in Vietnam. When his body was returned here, a local cemetery refused his family's request for burial.
"Jones' death was one horrendous thing after another," said Jones-Brown, an Environmental Protection Agency employee in Washington, D.C. "First, the military was unsure where the body was. Later, we had to change the burial site and the funeral program."
Today, the neighborhood's hub bears his name - the Dwight H. Jones Community Center. "We had to institutionalize his memory," said his old friend, Goliath Davis, now a deputy mayor. "His legacy had to live on." Dwight Jones Park pictured below.
On Dec. 29, 1950, Jones was born in Methodist Town. "We weren't rolling in the dough," said Jones-Brown, 54. "After good morning, education was the watchword."
Jones tutored children there, planned field trips and scheduled neighborhood cleanups. At St. Petersburg Junior College (class of 1970), he re-established the Harambi Swahili Organization, another black culture group.
Dwight and Reginald Jones and Goliath Davis repeatedly battled the City Council over Methodist Town improvements. The city, they were told, "was not in the housing business."
Through the Black Brothers and Sisters, Jones initiated a movement for a city-sponsored center. Officials paid little attention.
In 1970, Jones found housing in a trailer at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, but bullets flew overhead as he unloaded his car. Jones returned home.
In March 1971, the Army drafted Jones. "My brother did not want to go," said his sister, Yvonne. "He had a great concern about killing someone."
Said Davis: "We had a long discussion the night before he had to report about whether he should serve or go to Canada. He decided to serve."
"Very numbing, but not a surprise," Reginald L. Jones said. "They were rushing men over there. He knew he was going to the front line."
Upon return of Jones' body in October, Susie Walker, Jones' mother, requested burial at Royal Palm Cemetery.
"Deed restrictions in the chain of title restrict the cemetery to Caucasians or whites," William S. Belcher, Royal Palm's attorney, said at the time. "Many lots have sold subject to these restrictions."
"I faced (the rebuff) with quiet resignation," Reginald said. "I'm a realist. Our father encountered the same situation."
"Jim Crow was still surviving," said Davis, 52. "(Dwight) gave his life for democratic principles, but he was denied the chance to partake of its opportunities."
The military ultimately arranged for Jones' burial at Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery in Largo. The Veterans Liaison Council and a Fort Stewart, Ga., detachment furnished military honors.
On March 12, 1972, Jones was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal and the Vietnam Campaign Medal.
Methodist Town was renamed Jamestown (to honor civic leader Chester Lucius James Sr.) in 1974, and in 1977 a Housing and Urban Development grant of almost $4-million went toward housing and a $500,000 community building. That October, about 200 people attended the dedication of the gold-colored Dwight H. Jones Neighborhood Center.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast Inc. meet at the center, 1035 Burlington Ave. N. Occasional rentals reap funds, and the Pinellas Opportunity Council distributes financial aid there to needy residents.
And Jones' legacy lives on. Jo-Anne Lewis, administrative assistant at Jamestown Townhouses and Apartments, said: "When the children see his picture, they ask about Mr. Jones."
Margaret Yardley (Golay)
I recall having a class with Dwight, but I had no idea that this quiet young man had contributed so much to St. Petersburg during his too short life. I can only imagine the challenges he faced that many of us will never know. Thank you John W. for sharing Dwight's history and thank you to his family for his sacrifice to the country. Margaret Golay (Yardley)
Mary Shofi (Volpe)
This is an amazing memory. John's reconstruction of these life narratives is so much appreciated.