Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Raymond Jones and Political Beginning

BOND: Now, in your political life -- I mean, you’ve worked with the who’s who. I’m thinking about David Dinkins and Basil Paterson, Ron Brown, whose dad ran the Theresa Hotel, Nelson Rockefeller, Robert Kennedy -- but let me ask you about somebody whose name is not that well known across the country, J. Raymond Jones. What did Jones mean to you? Tell us who he was and what he meant to you.

RANGEL: J. Raymond Jones was the first black county -- democratic county leader in the country. He came here from St. Thomas. He told the story that he came as a stowaway and the same day that he got off the ship, they made the Virgin Island people citizens it took months to find out that he didn’t have to be a stowaway. He was self-trained, very spectacular guy. He was so far removed away from me. He was the national leader. He was the one that spurred on the late and the great Adam Clayton Powell. He negotiated between the Kennedys and the Johnsons and -- that’s Lyndon Johnson and Jack Kennedy. He was advisor to mayors and governors. He was a political big shot, and I was just a little guy on the block, working in the District leaders and trying to see what space I could make politically for myself. But there did come a time that he aspired for public office himself and the political leader that I had was not supporting him. So when he sent for me and said, "I understood you want to run against the local leader," I thought it was because of my intellect, my ability to lead. All he wanted is someone to make some noise in that club. And then I checked out the main guy and the main inspiration for me -- and this is, you know, post-graduation, post-assistant U.S. Attorney, so I’m no kid. I’m thirty years old, I’m thirty-one years old, so I’m mature.

The guy that was running for eleven years against my so-called Democratic leader was Percy Sutton. So when I saw Percy wasn’t running after running so long and J. Raymond Jones, the powerful candidate, you know, the maker of Connie Motley as a judge and as a borough president and Bob Carter -- I mean, he only hung out with national leaders -- and the right hand to Adam Clayton Powell. When he had said he was going to endorse me, first he asked me how much support I had. It’s strange how sincere you can be when you’re exaggerating your support. Yeah, I said, "Basically, if you’re supporting me, I got over half the club." When he said he wanted to see these people, where the heck could I take him? I lived in one room so I got the local undertaker and the hardware store guy and the boys on the block put on ties and we thought we were giving him a real show for his brilliance in selecting me to become the Democratic leader of a large assembly district in Harlem.

As it turned out, I lost the election because Percy supported someone else there and so that happened. But a strange thing happened. Even though I was a loser in the election, I was J. Raymond Jones’s man.

BOND: Okay. And that was like a stamp of approval.

RANGEL: It was, but I didn’t get anything, you know? And so Percy and I got together during the campaign. And I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me, and I was the new guy on the block, but we said "There’s so much out here, why are we fighting each other when we could come together?" So Percy Sutton -- the well-known NAACP guy, the civil rights guy, the Tuskegee Airman, the neighborhood lawyer -- and I joined and formed a club and we haven’t looked back since.

Now, J. Raymond Jones, how did he fit into it? Well, Percy’s club was considered a reform club. And the regular J. Raymond Jones hated the reform club and so when I told J. Raymond Jones, "You got to know Percy Sutton, we gotta work this thing out together." And J. Raymond Jones said, "Those Sutton brothers are going to eat you up alive." I said, "But they know I exist, Mr. Leader. I mean, you -- you’ve gone on to other things, you know, with the Connie Motleys and the J. Raymond Jones and then Adam Powell, but I’m out here and I have no club except the one we put together."

We finally got Sutton and Jones together and what a team they turned out to be. And with the exception of Percy running for mayor, we haven’t lost an election. Then that brought in the David Dinkins, who’s my political brother, the Basil Patersons, and it has just been so very very exciting, but in my offices in Washington and New York, I got the picture of J. Raymond Jones there.

Also, I might add, that as close he was in negotiating Adam Powell through all of his difficulties and as hard I worked in my district to support Adam Clayton Powell who I’m certain that history is going to record, notwithstanding his flamboyance, as being one of the most successful legislators that we’ve had in recent years, but something triggered in Adam that even when we won the United States Supreme Court decision, Adam could not come back home and when Nelson Rockefeller sent me there to talk to him, to negotiate him coming back without civil or criminal penalties, it was clear to me that not only was Adam not coming back, but because I had been on television week after week supporting Adam Powell against outside attacks, I then became a part of the Adam Powell problem where they wanted to get rid of everybody that was running on that ticket for new fresh blood, so I became the new fresh blood. And J. Raymond Jones who had helped me to try to get Adam back became a supporter after being a lifelong friend and supporter of Adam Powell. So if there was a guy that I know I made proud, it would be J. Raymond Jones. He was so much like my grandfather.

BOND: Really?

RANGEL: Not any compliments or anything. Maybe a pat on the shoulder. I don’t — they didn’t have to say you’re doing good. You just felt it.