Celebrating Black History – Month of February


In Honour Of

BLACK HISTORY MONTH

– officially celebrated in Canada and the United States,

but available to all –

I celebrate John Craven Jones – first teacher on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada.

Born in Raleigh, North Carolina on September 10, 1834

Died at Greensboro, South Carolina, on December 17, 1911.

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John Craven Jones - First Teacher on Salt Spring Island - 1859

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Excerpt from Salt Spring’s Archives: 

“John’s father Allan Jones believed passionately in education for the Black people. He was a Black man, born into slavery in America. He became a free man. (We don’t know for sure, but he probably bought freedom for himself and his wife and children) When he was free, he started a school for Black children. People who did not believe that Black children should learn to read and write burned down his school. He started another school. That school was also set on fire and destroyed. He started a new school. It, too, was burned down. Then Allan Jones sent his sons to Oberlin College, Ohio, to get a high class education. All three Jones brothers graduated from the college. John was the brother who wanted to teach. Like his father, he especially wanted to teach his own people. Oberlin College had taught him how to start a one-room school for children, and how to give them a really good education from grade one through to grade eight.

When he graduated from Oberlin College, John Craven Jones taught for two years as the only teacher in a one-room school for Black students, in Xenia, Ohio.

In 1859, when he was 25 years old, John Craven Jones and his brothers came to Salt Spring with the first group of non-native people making a new life for themselves by settling on Salt Spring Island. (Before 1859, the land and coasts of Salt Spring Island were used only by the First Nations people of the area) Some of these new settlers were white men, bachelors who married Indian women. Indian women knew how to gather food and how to survive on the island. But almost all of the Black people came as families, husbands and wives with children who needed education. John Craven Jones was teaching these children almost immediately, and continued to do so for many years, without any pay. (The families made sure he had all he needed to stay teaching on the island, so they shared food with him, and helped him with his other needs).”

Because Mr. Jones did not obtain appropriate certification (as he was teaching school during office hours of the Ministry of Education, I don’t know how he could have traveled to Victoria  to obtain this official documentation), we have copies of an Inspection Report that was completed by a man with significantly fewer qualifications than Mr. Jones!

John taught on Salt Spring until 1875, then returned to Oberlin.  There, he met Almira, also a graduate of Oberlin College, and married her when he was 48 years of age.   John and Almira went to Tarboro, North Carolina, where he taught in a school for Black students.  John and Almira had three children.  John taught in Tarboro for about 20 years before retiring as a farmer.  John Craven Jones died at Greensboro, South Carolina, on December 17, 1911.

Descendants of the original black families are still with us on Salt Spring Island.  Their contribution to the community today is primarily in the arts – music and writing.  

Marcus Mosely, a Texas raised singer who starred in various highly successful stage production such as “Ain’t Misbehavin'”, “Black and Gold Revue” and “Show Boat” (now living in Vancouver), offered Salt Springers a weekend of training in Black Spirituals and Gospel.  Descendants of John Carver Jones’ students came to our Sunday night performance.  Blessedly, dignity outshone truth.  It leaked no signs of their suffering through our attempts at their soul’s music.

Thank you, John Craven Jones, for all you gave to our Island home.

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17 thoughts on “Celebrating Black History – Month of February

    • My response to your comment disappeared, Charles. I said that I was thinking about you as I wrote this…for some reason I see you as an educator.

      I went on to say that I am hopeful that Mr. Jones ended up being paid. My mother also did not get paid for large chunks of time in rural Alberta. The Boards had no money and the Gov’t took a great deal of time making some available. We lived on a running tab at the local General Store which saved our bacon. That, along with a big garden and helpful neighbours.

  1. Thank you so much, Amy, for starting the blog ball rolling for Black History Month! What a wonderful life, and well-lived – Mr. Jones is an inspiration to all of us! His North Carolina ties really bring the story home to me as well – I know quite well all of the towns you mentioned down here in NC and SC!

    I’m e-mailing this story to Hubs – I know he will be very interested. His father was a distinguished educator – he served as President of Paine College in Augusta, GA for 17 years, during the most tumultuous years of the Civil Rights era. He was the last white president of a black college in this country, and is still held in very high esteem by all races. Someday i will have to tell some of his story..

    Thanks again, Amy – oh, and BTW – I’m PAULA and not Pauline! (No worries – it’s a common mistake!)

    • So glad the story “spoke to you”. I’ve recently learned about a black Olympian, John Carlos, and heard his disappointment that there has been some progress, but that we are now slipping back again. Everyone has to stop perpetuating fear and hatred. I have lived as a member of the minority and it is frightening.

      My apologies for printing the wrong name, Paula. I hope I haven’t made that slip often! I know why I did it…it’s combining your first two names.

  2. One of my aunts went to Oberlin.
    South of Oberlin in Cincinnati, one must visit the Freedom Center. Each June I have consulting work there and I make it a point to visit again and again. It’s not a static place. Always something new. The docents are talented teachers, actors, musicians.
    I loved your detailed research in this story. Interesting how Oberlin taught him to establish a one-room school house for children. And, I enjoyed the bit about Marcus Mosely. Thank you for sharing this very special story.

  3. Hi Amy .. there’s a black scientist/environmentalist I came across – can’t for the life of me remember his name, nor what it was he was involved in .. but I’ll keep my thoughts and eyes open .. cheers Hilary

  4. What sweet tribute to the man. Racism always gets under my fingernails – but no matter which way I turn it over, it always comes out like this: it seems inherent in human beings that fear precipitates the strangest behaviors.
    Thanks for the post.

    • I agree, Bela, it is about fear. Except that racist people don’t look within themselves with the depth needed to flush out the true fear. Sometimes the fear is that their friends will turn on them for not hating!

  5. Hi,
    I have never heard of Black History Month before, what a great idea.
    I loved reading about John Craven Jones, he achieved so much, a great post, with some great info, I enjoyed the read.

    • The book and movie, Roots, made me be aware of the devastation of being stripped of all one’s history. Really, can you imagine that? Loosing all touch and connection with our ancestors and elders?! It was bad enough that slavery was so prevalent and accepted! Ignoring that human beings had history added a travesty beyond belief, but what good are words? It’s our actions that count. And Mags, John Craven Jones is not only revered during Black History Month! His presence, the Black families and First Nations people are the cornerstones of our history, no matter the month. I hope that makes our black residents very proud indeed.

    • It’s such a pleasure having your visit, Veefar1. Thank you for taking the time to comment – it is so very much appreciated. I went back and re-read the post and found, to my horror, that I had done something to the last section…must have deleted a line or two. One unfinished sentence hung in…well, NOT perpetuity because I edited the ending. So, you see, your visit not only warmed my heart, it gave me a necessary nudge.

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