When Hazel Jones’ daughters were growing up, they never heard a word about the Tulsa Race Riot.
“For safety, my mother had been told not to talk about it by her father. And she didn’t for years,” said Yolanda Mitchell, one of Jones’ two girls. “We were nearly grown before we learned about it.”
That all changed for Jones, though, later in her life. When riot survivors began organizing to raise awareness and push for reparations, Jones started to speak up with them.
Out of respect for those who’d suffered greater losses, she let others do most of the talking, her family said. But it was clear Jones was done being silent.
She might’ve been quieter than some, said her other daughter, Hazel Jones-Moses, “but when she would talk, she spoke the truth.”
Hazel Smith Jones, who was believed to be the last survivor of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot still living in Tulsa, died Sunday. She was 99. A service is set for 10 a.m. Saturday at the North Peoria Church of Christ. Dyer Memorial Chapel at Butler-Stumpff Funeral Home is handling arrangements.
Born Jan. 8, 1919, Jones, one of 13 children, was just 2 years old at the time of the riot, which resulted in the destruction of Tulsa’s thriving black Greenwood district, at least 39 deaths and left about 10,000 people homeless.
Although she once would not have dreamed of doing so, Jones talked about the race riot in 2016 in an interview with CNN as part of coverage prompted by the Terence Crutcher shooting.
“My daddy wasn’t at home, just the kids and mamma” when white men in a truck began gathering up residents, Jones said.
“They came and got us. They carried us to the fairgrounds and we was there for two or three days. We stayed there and my dad didn’t know where we were.”
Her mother thought going to the fairgrounds would be the safest course, Jones added. But the absence of homeowners only made it easier for the white mob to loot their properties.
Besides being more open to talking, Jones in recent years also helped provide a public face for the community of survivors.
She was part of the 90th anniversary Tulsa Race Riot commemoration in 2011 and was an honored guest with other survivors at the dedication of John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park. More recently, the Tulsa Race Riot Centennial Commission interviewed Jones:
“When asked what she wanted to see the commission do, her reply was, ‘Tell the Greenwood story and make sure as many people as possible know about what happened,’” said Jamaal Dyer, commission project manager.
“She was glad to know that steps have been taken to get lesson plans in Oklahoma schools. She also expressed that she wanted to see Greenwood become a thriving area for blacks again.”
Jones was a 1938 graduate of Booker T. Washington High School. She was a welder in California during World War II before returning to Tulsa to graduate from beauty school. She went on to work as a pastry chef, including at a country club and for 18 years with Tulsa Public Schools.
A “family-oriented” woman who “put God first,” Jones genuinely loved people, Mitchell said.
“She endured a lot of things,” her daughter added. “But I believe that she was more loving, more giving, more patient, because of the things she experienced.”
The Tulsa-based commission knows of two other living race riot survivors — one in New York and one in Chicago — but noted there could be others. Commission members, Dyer noted, were “deeply saddened” by Jones’ death.
“She was a sweet and gentle lady with a passion for the youth in our community,” Dyer said.
Jones was preceded in death by her husband of 47 years, Earl H. Jones Sr., and a son, Earl H. Jones Jr.
Survivors include her daughters, Hazel B. Jones-Moses and Yolanda Mitchell; seven grandchildren; 16 great-grandchildren; two great-great-grandchildren; and one sister.