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In Memory of . . . William R. Jones (1933-2012)

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Reverend Dr. William Ronald Jones died on July 13, 2012 at the age of 78.

Rev. Jones was born in Louisville, KY on July 17, 1933 to Henry and Lannie (Brogsdale) Jones. Rev. Jones attained his Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from Howard University in 1955. He then went on to earn a Master of Divinity from Harvard University in 1958, and a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Brown University in 1969.

Rev. Jones was ordained by the Unitarian Society of Wellesley Hills, MA on June 15, 1958. From 1958-1960, he was the Assistant Minister and Director of Religious Education at the First Unitarian Church in Providence, RI. From 1977-2012, he served as a community minister at Florida State University. Notably, he was a member of the UUA Board of Trustees from 1993-2000, and worked with the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) to develop resources for professional religious educators.

Rev. Jones authored articles regarding oppression and the church’s role in social change. His work has been the subject of a vast number of newspaper and journal articles as well as dissertations. In 1978, he co-edited Black Theology II, and in 1973, Beacon Press published Rev. Jones’ controversial piece, Is God A White Racist? A Preamble to Black Theology.

In his seminal work, Is God A White Racist?, Rev. Jones introduced the thesis for his life’s work:

It has often been said that asking the right question is as important as supplying the correct answer. Whether correct or incorrect, this generalization describes the purpose in the following pages. To paraphrase Kant’s admonition, my objective is to force the black theologians and their readers to pause a moment and, neglecting all that they have said and done, to reconsider their conclusions in the light of another question: Is God a white racist? My concern throughout is to illuminate the issues this pregnant question introduces into the arena of black theology and religion. The black theologian, I contend, cannot avoid this issue of divine racism, because it is implicit in his theological method, purpose, and content.

An internationally recognized and celebrated activist, scholar, philosopher, theologian, and educator, Rev. Jones dedicated his long career to the analysis and methods of oppression, and to working with others in their anti-oppression initiatives. A fundamental part of his work was the exploration of religious humanism and liberation theology.

Rev. Jones’ academic and professional endeavors were broad and vast. He helped found and became the Director of the Department of African-American Studies as Florida State University. He was also an associate professor at Yale Divinity School, a visiting lecturer at Howard University, and a visiting professor at Brown University, Princeton University, and Union Theological Seminary, among others. Some of his professional affiliations included the American Academy of Religion, the American Humanist Association, the American Philosophical Association, the Religious Education Association, the Society for the Study of Black Religion, the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics, and the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA).

Rev. Jones received a vast number of awards over the years including the Urban League Family of the Year Award (1963), the Richard Allen Award (1972), Yale’s A. Whitney Griswold Award (1974), the Martin Luther King, Jr. Distinguished Scholar Award(1986), the Bragg Humanist of the Year Award (1989), the American Humanist Association Humanist of the Year (1992), the UUA’s Holmes Weatherly Award (1995), and the African American Culture and Philosophy Award (1996), to name just a few.

Rev. Jones is survived by his former wife of 35 years, Lauretta H. Jones; sons Jeffrey Jones, Esq. and Darrell Jones; brother, Cecil Jones; sister, Gilmer Jones Callender; as well as many nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends.

A celebration of the life of the Rev. Dr. Jones will be held on August 19, 2012 at 2 p.m. at the Nancy Smith Fichter Theatre in Montgomery Hall at Florida State University, 130 Collegiate Loop, Tallahassee, FL 32306.

Notes of condolence may be sent to The Jones Family, 2410 Limerick Drive, Tallahassee, FL 32309.

The Rev. Dr. Jones is, perhaps, most lovingly remembered for a principle by which he lived: "You show your love through actions, not words alone.”

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