Wednesday, May 26, 1943
As we again debate voting rights and restrictions in 2015, it consider the bold act of 21-year old ensign Owen Evan Jones, second class signalman from San Francisco. On leave in Washington, DC, he decided to visit the House “to see how democracy works.” He got an eyeful when he realized the House was debating the southern poll tax, a powerful bar against voting by African-Americans. Springing up, he shouted, “I want to speak for thousands who can’t be here. The poll tax is undemocratic. Colored men fight beside us on the ships and we don’t ask them to pay a poll tax. I—“ Dragged away at that point, he begged, “Put me in there at the speakers’ stand then. I’ll tell ‘em.” Back inside Rep Frances P. Bolton (R_Ohio)) ridiculed southern congressmen who insisted that Negroes in their states were happy. Rep. Hatton W. Sumners (D._Tex) then branded the bill a slander and likened its supporters to Communists, a sure fire way to rouse the base, in all senses of the word.
Like so many of the “Greatest Generation,” Jones is no longer able to tell us about this himself. He died December 9, 2008. But what events he must have witnessed! He served on the troop ship S.S. Mount Vernon and was involved in virtually every major battle in the South Pacific. Explaining that he and many of his shipmates didn’t know how to swim, he said, “That’s why we fought so hard!”