Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Naming "Benjamin F. Jones Place - In Honorarium"

Benjamin F. Jones (see post 4/1/08) was the first African-American elected to City Council in Orange, NJ. Yesterday, the City of Orange Township named a part of Cleveland Street in his honor. Asked to speak at the ceremony, I reflected on a story he loved to tell of a confrontation with my father, Ernest Thompson. Ben was not active in politics, though he was an accomplished professional. My father thought he should be, and would harangue him when they met at the Harmony Bar. One day Ben got tired of this. He threw some money down on the bar and told the bartender, "Set my man up with drinks, I'm out of here." My father ordered him to come back. "Ben, never walk out on Black folks like that. Furthermore, I don't need your money or your liquor without you." For Ben, this was not simply a dispute in a bar, but a deep moment of truth, as if God had spoken to him through Ernie Thompson, sitting on a stool in the Harmony Bar. From that day on, Ben accepted that he had responsibilities to the community that had raised him. He became a student of politics, adding to his innate sense of diplomacy new skills in campaigning, negotiating, developing program and delivering for his constituency. Ben became a man of honor, worthy of having a street named for him, and worthy of being remembered in the annals of Orange.

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