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Rev. William Jones, 71; Minister Founded Civil Rights Group With King

February 10, 2006|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

The Rev. William A. Jones, 71, a minister and civil rights activist who was the first head of the New York office of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, died Saturday at his Brooklyn home of complications from kidney disease.

Jones, who served as pastor of Brooklyn's Bethany Baptist Church for more than four decades, was a third-generation minister.

Born in Lexington, Ky., he graduated from the University of Kentucky where, despite being 6 feet 5, he was prevented from playing basketball because he was black.

He earned a degree from Crozer Theological Seminary and in 1975 a doctorate from what is now Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. He served as pastor of the First Baptist Church in Philadelphia before going to Bethany Baptist in 1962.

In the early 1960s, he joined the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in forming the Progressive National Baptist Convention, which now has more than 2.5 million members.

He later headed the New York office of Operation Breadbasket, a national organization founded by King to improve economic conditions in the African American community. He became acting national chairman in 1972 after the resignation of the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Pastor and advisor to the Rev. Al Sharpton, Jones permitted Sharpton to make Bethany Baptist his headquarters during the 1987 Tawana Brawley incident. Brawley, a 15-year-old African American, alleged that a white man abducted and sexually abused her and wrote racial epithets on her body. A grand jury ruled her story a hoax.

Jones led efforts to integrate New York's building trade unions and organized boycotts to force supermarket chains to hire more minority workers.

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