Last week I had the great good fortune to meet the Hon. J. Charles Jones, a civil rights legend living in the Biddleville neighborhood of Charlotte, North Carolina. Bordered by historically black Johnson C. Smith University, Biddleville struggles to keep its character while integrating young families seeking a perch close to downtown. My daughter and son-in-law are among them and were warmly welcomed by Mr. Jones on their first day in the neighborhood. Charles lives across the street, tending to koi ponds, both indoor and in his gardens and was one of the first people in Charlotte to install a solar energy system, which provides most of his energy needs. C-Span interviewed him in 2011 about his contribution to the civil rights movement, part of their Historic Charlotte series ( linked to the photo below).
When Mr. Jones welcomed me, he told me a little about his history with the movement, his marriage of 38 years and his love of the earth and of people. His storytelling style is poetry in motion, conducting the conversation with orchestral flair. My imagination was already piqued by his lush garden and the mysterious greenhouse structure than runs the length of his family home. Charles’ openness, spiritual presence and charm are a powerful reminder that there are many humane beings in the world and that a heart to heart connection will always bring a tear to my eye. He is a wonderful goodwill ambassador, helping to build Dr. King’s “beloved community,” with love. The Historic West End Partners, neighbors and the city of Charlotte are working together to mitigate some of the side effects of increasing property taxes and keep the character of this historically rich black neighborhood alive. Support of long-time residents is important to both old and new neighbors.
This week, Representative Charles Lewis, a Civil Rights icon, led the sit in to protest obstruction to gun control legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. The struggle for justice and equality is real, just as hard as it was in the 1960’s. When someone who has faced the blindness and the hatred of prejudice holds out his hand in friendship, it is both humbling and hopeful. The relentless media focus on hatred and violence undermines opportunities for trust and mutuality. It seems, lately, that we have taken several steps backward: in women’s rights, voting rights, civil rights, LGBT and labor rights. Perhaps there will come a time when we can move forward again, together. Charles Jones and John Lewis make me believe that time is now.
A summer saunter around Charlotte, Cornelius and Davidson, NC