For Black History Month, the Globe is featuring profiles on the living civil rights leaders who were named Boston “heroes” on the 1965 Freedom Plaza that surrounds the Embrace sculpture.
From providing students of color with equal access to education to founding a social service agency to help lower-income children and families secure affordable housing, Katherine and Hubie Jones were key leaders in child advocacy during the civil rights movement.
The Joneses are both native New Yorkers and realized their roots for social change growing up alongside challenges in the bustling city. Hubie Jones attended the City College of New York; the “institution that gave me my biggest lift,” he said in a recent Globe interview.
At CCNY, he said he was fortunate enough to learn from psychology professor Kenneth Clark, who, along with his wife, developed the critical child doll experiment to document racial bias in children, a study which contributed to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision.
“That made me think about becoming a social worker and maybe one day being a leader,” Jones said.
After he graduated from Boston University with a degree in social work in 1957, Jones began working at Boston Children’s Services, the oldest US child welfare agency, before he decided to venture back to New York.
Soon after he left, Jones got a call from Boston Children’s with an invitation for him to come back and start his professional career there.
“Yeah, let’s go back to Boston,” Jones remembers thinking. When he returned, Jones embarked on a nearly 50-year legacy that would shape opportunities for children of color for years to come.
He took on leadership at Boston Children’s, the Baker Center for Children and Families, also known as the Judge Baker’s Children Center, which provides mental health support to juveniles, and as director of the Roxbury Multi-Service Center, which specializes in behavioral health and education services, where he remained until 1971.
As director, Jones organized a task force to investigate the issue of why a troubling number of Boston children weren’t going to school. The 1970 report that came out of the investigation, “The Way We Go To School: The Exclusion of Children in Boston,” led to the incorporation of two Massachusetts laws which protect the rights of bilingual and special needs children, more than 10,000 of whom were excluded from education prior to the legislation, the report found.
The task force is now known as the Massachusetts Advocates for Children, which Jones said is still making significant strides in the community to promote equality.
Jones turned 90 in December and said he is grateful to look back on all he and his wife, who is 87, have done with a future generation ready to continue their work with “good hands.”
The Joneses have lived in their Newton home for 54 years. Though Hubie is fond of Newton, he said his work has always been based in Boston, while his wife has changed Newton’s culture for the better. “Newton was the place where I had a bed, but where I did my work was in Boston,” he said.
Katherine Jones, too, was a formidable force in improving the lives of Boston’s children.
In 1966, she co-founded the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity, or Metco, a voluntary racial integration program. Metco allowed 220 mostly Black students from Boston and Springfield to attend seven suburban school districts. The largest program of its kind in the country, Metco now serves about 3,100 students annually in 31 participating districts.
“[Katherine] worked very hard to organize fiercely to get residents to agree to be the first suburban community to embrace the program,” Jones said of his wife’s dedication.
Katherine Jones also became the first African American to be elected to the Newton School Committee in 1978, where she served for four terms.
In 2003, Hubie Jones founded the Boston Children’s Chorus, which employs the power of music to bring together the city’s diverse communities. The group holds more than 50 performances per season and was awarded the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award in 2013 at the White House.
“It’s sort of amazing that the organization I founded is still going, and it’s still doing very good work,” Jones said.
The group recently held a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute concert, in which two of the couple’s grandchildren, 9-year-old twins, performed.
“They surprised me at the concert by leading the audience in singing Happy Birthday on my 90th birthday,” he said. “I never thought I would live to have my own grandchildren in the chorus.”
Most recently, in 2010, Jones founded Higher Ground, an organization that Jones said has helped 500 low-income students and their families receive affordable housing by bringing together parents, schools, community providers, and government agencies to come up with effective solutions.
With eight children and 10 grandchildren, the Jones have their hands full with an abundance of love, they said.
Both Hubie and Katherine Jones are among Boston’s “heroes,” named on the 1965 Freedom Plaza that surrounds the iconic Embrace sculpture, a memorial unveiled last year to honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King.
The Embrace stands as “something I’ll always want to see to understand Boston’s relationship to the social justice movement,” Jones said.