I read a letter to the editor by Sean Carlson in the Tulsa World on September 18, 2010 that said: “Our problem is not with the occasional Jones of life.” The author was referring to the recent kerfluffle du jour featuring the Rev. Jones and his Quran-burning threat down in Florida. Of course, he was more generally referring to the crackpots that inevitably pop up in our world, but it got me thinking about the occasional Jones that appears in American history.
I’m from Oklahoma, so I naturally think first of Stephen Jones — the attorney who represented Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing case. Jones had a very difficult job in that — being an Oklahoman intimately touched by the terrorism, yet he committed himself to presenting a vigorous defense for McVeigh despite his personal feeling. Over the course of his career, Jones has defended many undesirable clients. In fact, he was fired from his first job for agreeing to defend a protestor waving a Vietcong flag at ROTC cadets at the University of Oklahoma in the early 70’s. Jones has been a champion for defending the unpopular all his life, and he recently spoke out in defense of those attorneys at the Department of Justice who formerly represented prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. He insists that in an adversarial system intended to protect the rights of all, we cannot scare attorneys away from representing even the most unsavory-seeming of clients.
Then, my mind skips back to Mother Jones. She was, of course, the famed union organizer who led the Children’s Crusade to the White House in an effort to get support for legislation ending child labor. After her sons and husband (who was a miner) were killed in a yellow fever epidemic, she dedicated herself to helping “her boys” in labor conflicts around the country. She was in Colorado working with the miners on the eve of the Ludlow Massacre and with political activists founding the International Workers of the World (“Wobblies”) organization. Jones was undeterred by the restrictions on women of her day. She said you don’t need the vote to raise hell. That was the tool available to her and she embraced it. When she was 83 years old, President Theodore Roosevelt called her the most dangerous woman in America. She was on the forefront of the fight for labor rights from the end of the nineteenth century until well into the twentieth.
Going back another hundred years, I think of John Paul Jones, the noted naval commander. Actually, he adopted his “Jones,” but we’ll let him have it. A self-confessed murderer (self-defense, naturally) of respectable standing, he volunteered for the Continental Navy when the Revolutionary War broke out. He had some issues with authority and often ran his ship like a terrorist working the coast rather than a noble war commander. His participation in the capture of the HMS Drake, however, was one of the few naval high-points for American sailors in the war. The British called him a pirate; the French made him a Chevalier. Although he died in Paris, where he retired after serving in the Russian Navy, he rests at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He is considered a hero of our war for independence, and his famous quote “I have not yet begun to fight!” has served as an inspirational motto for Americans throughout our history.
I have to say that, considering these Joneses that popped into my head, those with this surname have done some good service to our country and left a favorable mark on our history. I can’t say that we aren’t the better for them. Apparently, we can use the occasional Jones.