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Requiem for a freedom singer, freedom fighter

The legacy of Matthew Auralius Jones Jr. includes these milestones – Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) field secretary, freedom fighter and freedom singer. The legacy of Matthew Auralius Jones Jr. includes these milestones – Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) field secretary, freedom fighter and freedom singer.

 ‘Matt’ Jones: 1936-2011

Born in Raleigh, N. Car., on Sept. 17, 1936, he died Mar. 30 in New York City.

Jones, aka Matt Jones, was already a schooled, experienced musician when he became active in the fight for civil rights by joining the Nashville Student Movement in 1960. Later, he also became an outspoken participant in the struggle in Danville, Va., for which he organized a vocal group, the Danville Freedom Voices, in 1963.

Shortly thereafter, Jones relocated to Atlanta with his brother Marshall and the two became affiliated SNCC and their powerful music ensemble, the Freedom Singers. The legendary group was born via a series of meetings held between Cordell Reagon, SNCC Executive Secretary Jim Foreman and Pete Seeger, already viewed as an elder of the protest song. In 1964, Jones, a SNCC field secretary, became a Freedom Singers member and then the group’s director.

That year, the Freedom Singers toured the country as part of the wide organizing drive to build the Friends of SNCC, initially focusing on northern states to build the movement’s momentum. Of the Freedom Singers, Jones has said, “We were organizers first, singers second.”

The fight for equality in the Jim Crow South could often be terrifying. Jones faced down the Klan on many occasions and endured 29 arrests. His experiences developed him into a “freedom singer” in the most visceral manner.

“I don’t think of myself as a cultural worker,” Matt said. “I am a freedom singer; a freedom fighter. I’ve always been a freedom fighter; I’ll probably go down that way, too. Freedom songs are different than other protest songs because they are really a mantra. The use of repetition allows for the message to be understood. If we sing a powerful statement enough times in a song, like ‘This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,’ then we can internalize it”.

Jones maintained his role as an artist-activist even as SNCC broke apart, performing his radical repertoire around the world, including alongside freedom fighters in Northern Ireland.

During the struggle against the Vietnam War, he recorded a 45 that has become quite legendary, “Hell No, We Ain’t Gonna Go” backed with “Super Sam.”

Jones’ music has been heard in such lasting films as “The Ghosts of Mississippi.” And in Harlem he organized an annual tribute to Dr. King, which was never without the body of song that Matt had always marched to. Over the decades he continued to perform for numerous rallies throughout New York.

Jones never ended a gig without “The Freedom Chant,” an affirmation he based on a famous quote by Fannie Lou Hamer and his own many years of direct action.

I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I will not allow anybody at any time

To violate my mind or my body

In any shape, form or fashion.

If they do they’ll have to deal with ME immediately!

Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!

Jones leaves his wife Shelly D. Jones of New York; sons, Matthew A. Jones III, Gerald Paul Jones Sr. and Ellis Lebron Jones Sr. of Chattanooga. His funeral was April 8 at St. Lukes Episcopal Church in Knoxville.

(Courtesy of Lisa Vives, executive director, Global Information Network)

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