Faith and God’s grace highlights the stories of many African Americans and the Jones, Jeffers and Dickens families are no exception. Since the 1800s, the three families have made a significant impact on both coasts of the U.S., and a new book by Melvina Jones shares how they did it.
“Roxboro Roots – North Carolina Families Leave Their Imprint on America’s Story” does more than tell about the families’ background, according to Jones, who described the book as “a unique story, but it is also very universal. It’s an African American story and also an American story. There is no way you can tell our story, and especially African Americans, without looking at the incredible grace of God.”
Jones will read excerpts and sign copies of her book on Saturday, August 10, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., at the Word of Life Christian Bookstore, 6321 West Blvd., in Los Angeles. Hoping to inspire others to research their own histories, Jones also considers her book as a genealogical record for her own relatives.
Her father, the late Rev. Dr. Whalen S. Jones, is cited in “Roxboro Roots” as well. A native of Roxboro, he was known to many Angelenos as the founder and pastor of Messiah Baptist Church in Los Angeles for 34 years. He led thousands to Christ and was a highly respected theologian before his passing at 107-years-old in 2016. His daughter devotes a chapter to him and reveals his many accomplishments before he came to L.A.
“The impact that Dad had is really shown in his chapter because Dad was twice a migrant. He moved with his family at age 8 around 1917 from North Carolina to Pennsylvania where dad was a pastor of two churches before coming out to L.A. in 1954,” explained Jones.
“My dad’s chapter is on the great migration and there are so many people who can relate to the movement from small southern cities to the industrial North and the World War 1 period and beyond. They were searching for a better future for their children and for jobs and a better life. That is not limited to color or ethnicity or background.”
The author also reported that Pastor Jones spoke five languages – English, Spanish, French, Greek and Yiddish. A big proponent of education, the pastor received Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Eastern Baptist College and Theological Seminary in Philadelphia as well as earned a Doctor of Ministry degree at California School of Theology. The Los Angeles City Council designated of the intersection of Adams and Wellington Road as ‘Doctor Whalen S. Jones Square’ in 2013.
In addition, the book covers the life of Jones’ cousin, Louis Franklin Dickens, another native of Roxboro, who went on to become a WWII hero. As a sergeant in in Company B, 827th Tank Destroyer Battalion, Dickens was wounded in a bloody battle to liberate France from Nazi Germany. She also looks at the role played by her cousin, Thebaud Jeffers, who served as an educator, council member and mayor of Gastonia, North Carolina, during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.
“So, those are the three sons of Roxboro that are featured. But, as I got into the history, I wanted to do something on the forbearers and I followed the patriarchs through the 19th century because they didn’t never really left the county. I followed them through slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow and the turn of the century,” recalled Jones.
“But the three sons are the key figures. They were not just impacted by history, but they impacted history,” noted Jones, who credited her cousin, Jackie Jeffers Gant, with compiling “a large number of diverse documents such as draft registration cards, census records, population registries and marriage certificates,” which greatly assisted her with the writing.
“I think the book is very inspirational. But, there is no story without the Lord’s graciousness,” insisted Jones. “The glory goes to Him and there is no book without Him.”