Richard Jones, a longtime peace and justice activist in Washington state, died April 28, soon after an 80th birthday party honoring his work.
Jones had faced many challenges. After the early death of his father, his mother at times could not support him and his brother Robert, and the boys lived in an orphanage.
After World War II, aided by a one-year scholarship, frugal living, and the GI Bill, Jones graduated from Reed College in Portland, Ore. He always felt that without the GI Bill he wouldn’t have finished college.
After earning a master’s degree and teaching credentials, he taught high school history in Bremerton, Wash., where he was well-liked and admired. But there he ran up against the Cold War. After the Soviet Union shot down the U.S. U-2 spy plane, Jones’ students voted to write to President Eisenhower urging him to apologize to Premier Khrushchev. Local papers covered the story for weeks. Jones was fired and it became impossible for him to find a teaching job again.
Aided by the teachers union, he eventually won a lawsuit against the school board, but he gained no compensation and still could not get a teaching job. His work included odd jobs and “stoop labor” picking cucumbers and other seasonal harvests.
Later, at Seattle University, he was known as the “janitor professor” to students impressed with his knowledge. But when he tried to organize workers there, the university found a way to let him go.
Living now on Social Security, Jones volunteered at the progressive Co-op Bookstore, never missing a day. On Saturdays, by bus and on foot, he delivered the People’s Weekly World across King County and, with the help of his friend Jim Cassidy, throughout Tacoma. A true working-class hero, he was active with various progressive groups and attended demonstrations and protest marches until ill health finally wore him down.