Just get out the way, and let the gentleman do his thing.

Retired Memphis Police Department Chief Inspector Robert Jones came to my pool party the other day. Over hot dogs and fruit salad, he regaled his grandchildren with tales of his days in Special Services on the police force. That's SWAT to you and me.

Among those anecdotes, he spins a yarn that includes a tear gas capsule hidden on the motor of a car full of pimps and ladies of the night, effectively expelling these law breakers out of a Buick Electra 225, running crazy. Later, he would be appointed Chief Inspector, along with fellow officer James Bolden (who also served MPD director), climbing his way up the career ladder with an excellent work ethic. But, before all that, he was a regular joe on the beat, paying his dues. Only, this fiery, young Irishman was going to do it his way.

Chief Inspector, Robert Jones. Memphis Police Department
Memphis Police Director, James Bolden; 2003-2004

They called him The Flame. Not only for his ability to run like one but, there was also that shiny red hair. In his youth, his stubborn independence got him into some trouble so he channeled that and made good with a career as both military and municipal policeman. A fellow white officer grumbled against his gentlemanly ways towards his fellow Memphians, particularly the black ones. "If I ever hear you call a black man "sir" again, I'm gonna kick your a**." It was then that he borrowed on his inherent nature and came against the status quo. 

In the 6os, there were plenty of black police officers in Memphis. They had their own chief and rode together, eventually forming the Afro-American Police Association, with Bolden serving as founding president. The blacks and whites were firmly segregated at this time, even in public service.

When Jones loaned Bolden his car, he furthered angered the white officers. His white lieutenant suggested he might be better off reassigned to ride along with a black officer. This was the beginning of the partnership between Bolden and Jones, the first of their kind. For the first time on the Memphis police force, there was a non-segregated car as well as a white officer serving under a black lieutenant.

With a nod to a popular television program, ADAM 12, new partners, Jones and Bolden, went to well-known civil rights photog, Ernest Withers, and asked him to shoot some publicity photos for them. These photos were autographed, ADAM 12-style, by the Memphis partners and handed out at parks to citizens in their south district.



Another anecdote recalls the team of Jones and Bolden scuffling with a drunk and unruly man on a domestic call when the officers notice one of their autographed photos on the wall of the apartment in a housing project off of Crump Blvd.

Jones' young sons were particularly proud of Dad's status as a police officer. If the younger of the two saw any man speaking to his mother, he would protectively saunter over and ask, "Hey, Mom, when is Dad coming home from work...from the police?"


Robert Jones and sons

Later, this same young son, Memphis Jones, proudly wore his father's badge on his strap as a guitar playing tour guide and continues to honor his father during performances as a crowd pleasing entertainer on Beale Street, USA.
"My father was a police officer here in Memphis, Tennessee and he calls me Memphis."

When I heard this story years ago about my husband's father, I thought it was cool enough but, honestly, didn't give it much thought. This summer, poolside, I listened intently as I had been closely following a recent Black Lives Matter protest in Memphissincerely struggling to understand the issues, that made national news

Here in the city where civil rights icon, Martin Luther King, was assassinated, were two men whose differences were indistinguishable behind the badge they proudly wore for the city they promised to protect & serve. This is a story that needs to be told in the midst of current racial tensions that span the country. While the demand for more is often warranted, we remember that civil rights progress has been made, even in Memphis, Tennessee. Men like Robert Jones and James Bolden pioneered efforts by quietly making history in the late 1960s.

Did black James and white Robert know what they were doing in the grand scheme of things years before our current headlines demand that more change comes? Maybe they did or maybe they didn't. Did they just want to do the right thing at just the right time? I'm certain the answer is YES.

These are the kind of incremental steps that are taken by a few brave ones which eventually get us where we need to be. Now, more than ever, I get it. 
And, I am ENCOURAGED. 


Comments

  1. Bolden and Jones formed a friendship out of respect , dignity and with the Blessings and grace of families who didn't teach hate, where character, not skin color mattered, and were strong enough to try to make a difference. They are friends today.

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  2. So well written, and, IMHO, an important piece of Memphis history in race relations. I had to share. Thank you for sharing this with us!☺ JRJ

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    1. You are welcome. Thank you for your kind words. (Who is this? :) )

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    2. Knowing Robert Jones son Memphis as I do, I am not one bit surprised at this story. There isn't another man I've ever met who is so kind, respectful and honest as Memphis. The apple didn't fall far from the tree. Two remarkable men. Thank you so much for sharing this.

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