Encyclopedia o f Chicago
Entries : John and Mary Jones: Early Civil Rights Activists
John and Mary Jones: Early Civil Rights Activists

John and Mary Jones: Early Civil Rights Activists

Certificates of Freedom, 1844
John and Mary Jones arrived in Illinois in 1844 and found a wide range of laws which restricted the freedoms of African American residents. The couple worked tirelessly in Chicago during the late 1840s and 1850s against slavery and the Illinois Black Laws. A few years after the abolition of slavery and the end of the Black Laws in 1865, John Jones was elected a Cook County commissioner and fought segregation in public schools. In 1955, their granddaughter Theodora Purnell described Mary Jones's role:

She was mistress of the home where Nathan Freer, John Brown, Frederick Douglass and Allen Pinkerton visited. She harbored and fed the fugitive slaves that these men brought to her door as a refuge until they could be transported to Canada. In fact she stood at my Grand-father's side—her husband John Jones—when their early Chicago home became one of the Underground Railway Stations. She it was who stood guard at the door when these pioneer abolitionists were in conference—with the slaves huddled below in her basement.

She was a pioneer in the initial Suffrage Movement and was hostess to Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chatman Catt, Emma Chandler and Mrs. John Brown.

Letter by Theodora Lee Purnell, September 2, 1955. John Jones Collection, Chicago Historical Society.