For eight grueling years, Royal Allen Jones labored in the darkness with shovels and picks, but he had faith that he would emerge to see the light.

“I was a coal miner, and it was hard, dirty work,” he once explained. “But I knew that I wanted to serve God, so I studied hard at night, always hoping to win my goal.”

After mining seams, he began saving souls.

Jones was ordained a minister in 1893 and served as pastor of Akron’s Second Baptist Church for nearly 50 years. As a civil rights leader, he advocated for better relations between races. As a community leader, he nudged Akron officials to do the right thing.

Jones was born into slavery near Richmond, Virginia, in 1859, the year of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry and three years before the Civil War tore the nation asunder. He witnessed the demise of the Confederate capital and endured the failure of Reconstruction.

In search of a better life, Jones moved to Ohio in 1880 at age 21, and found work at coal mines near Doylestown and Wadsworth, digging toward a dream of being a minister. His quest for social justice led him to co-found the Equal Rights Club of Wadsworth and serve as secretary.

Jones moved to Akron in 1890 to study at Buchtel College, forerunner of the University of Akron. The city had 27,601 residents with only a few hundred black people.

In 1892, the Rev. James W. Cheatham, Jones’ friend from Wadsworth, led a handful of worshippers in forming the Second Baptist Church in Akron. The group paid $2,000 for the old United Brethren Church at Hill and James streets, which today is the site of a parking lot near E.J. Thomas Hall.

Jones, the church superintendent, was elected pastor Feb. 19, 1893, and ordained a minister shortly thereafter. The preacher was known variously as R. Allen Jones, Royal A. Jones and R.A. Jones, and the 18-member congregation paid him $30 a month.

“Rev. R.A. Jones, recently called as pastor of the Second Baptist Church, colored, filled very acceptably the pulpit of that church yesterday morning and evening,” the Beacon Journal reported March 6, 1893. “… Rev. Jones is a gentleman of much energy and eloquence and it is expected that under his ministry there will be a marked revival in Akron.”

Jones and his wife, Mattie, a Virginia native, welcomed a daughter, Esther, who grew up to be the church organist.

The congregation swelled as workers flooded the city for jobs at rubber factories. In two decades, Akron’s population exploded from 42,728 in 1900 (with 525 blacks) to 208,435 in 1920 (with 5,580 blacks).

 

Beloved leader

Jones believed Christianity was a great equalizer.

“Legislation and opposition have failed: Nothing remains but to give the Negro a Christian education, and teach him to make it practical,” he said. “This will put into him a strong moral platform, a cultivated mind and means of bettering his condition financially. With these things at the universal possession, the last traces of race difference and difficulty will forever disappear; for the Christ spirit will rule and teach to all that ye are brethren.”

Jones was a fundamentalist who abstained from tobacco and liquor. He didn’t go to the movies and wasn’t too keen on popular music. When a fraternal group held a ragtime dance as a benefit, the pastor sighed: “I am not in favor of money which comes to us from such a sinful source.”

But Jones was far from dour. Congregants described him as friendly and jolly, a trusted adviser and a beloved leader. He did not hesitate to speak out on the issues of his day, including equal rights and better opportunities.

In 1908, Jones called for a YMCA-type organization for black children. “What place in this city is there for colored boys and young men to spend their evenings?” he asked. “You have the Young Men’s Christian Association for white men and boys, but our race is not admitted there. There are 300 colored boys and young men in the city of Akron. They now have no resort in which to pass their evenings but the saloon.”

In 1910, he lamented the brutality when black boxer Jack Johnson knocked out white fighter James J. Jeffries in Reno, Nevada. “I don’t believe in prize fights and I don’t care if a colored man did win,” he said. “I don’t see how it does our race any good.”

In 1917, Jones urged the Akron Police Department to hire black officers, saying they “knew the habits of their fellow men,” could more easily defuse tense situations and would be “of great value on the Furnace Street beat, where hundreds of Negroes from the South have found homes.”

 

Church grows

After Mattie died of influenza in 1915, Jones married Flora Randlemon in 1919. They led the Second Baptist Church’s move in 1921 to 188 E. Center St., a site that today is part of the UA campus.

Jones shepherded the congregation’s growth to more than 1,000 people, presiding over hundreds of baptisms, weddings and funerals.

“Our pastor is not an individual — he’s an institution,” Dr. Charles R. Lewis declared.

As Jones got older, celebrations were held every March to honor his pastoral anniversary. Among those to speak at the galas were Mayor Lee D. Schroy, Summit County Sheriff Jim Flower, Judge E.D. Fritch, Prosecutor Herman E. Werner and rubber executives F.A. Seiberling, C.W. Seiberling and Harvey S. Firestone.

“Rev. Mr. Jones has done a remarkable job and all the people of Akron join in congratulating him,” Mayor Schroy told the audience in 1938. “Not only has he labored unceasingly to uplift his own people during his long ministry, but he always has shown a willingness to assist any cause that benefits the city as a whole.”

The Rev. Royal Allen Jones was 81 when he died Jan. 24, 1941, after a two-year illness. He was buried at Mount Peace Cemetery.

“Akron’s Negro community is not alone in mourning the death of its able leader, Rev. R.A. Jones,” the Beacon Journal eulogized. “The entire city is appreciative of the service he had rendered during nearly a half century as pastor of the Second Baptist Church.”

Jones was succeeded by the Rev. Stanley E. Lynton (1906-1985), another icon in the congregation’s history, who shepherded Second Baptist Church’s move in 1975 to a new building at 690 S. Main St., where it still stands today.

Church members socialize in the Royal Allen Jones Fellowship Hall.

Since 2007, the Rev. Roderick C. Pounds Sr. has served as pastor of the church whose motto is “God’s Church, God’s People, God’s Way.”

It’s the congregation where a former coal miner finally reached the light.

 

Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or mprice@thebeaconjournal.com.