William Penn Jones, Jr. was born Oct. 15, 1914, in Lane’s Chapel, just outside Clarksville, Texas, to William Penn Jones, a tenant farmer, and his wife, Gussie Earline Browning Jones. The family moved to its own farm in Annona, Texas, and young Penn graduated from Clarksville High School then attended Magnolia Junior College in Magnolia, Ark.
Jones attended the University of Texas, enrolled in liberal arts and pre-law courses and excelled at wrestling and debate while working to pay his way. UT faculty member, author and folklorist J. Frank Dobie became a hero to Jones. Due to Dobie’s influence, Texana became his passion - until the JFK assassination.
Jones enlisted with the Texas National Guard in 1933, and married Louise Angove on July 23, 1941. The guard was called up for active duty at the outbreak of World War II. He served in the Quartermaster Corps of the Army’s 36th Division, dubbed the ’T-Patchers.’ The 36th fought in Italy, France, Germany and North Africa in some of the war’s bloodiest campaigns. Toward the end of the division’s European service, Jones saw first-hand the liberated concentration camps near Dachau, Hurlach and Landsberg with murdered prisoners heaped in piles.
Son Penn III was born in 1944 while Jones was overseas.
In 1945 Jones bought a weekly newspaper, the Midlothian (TX) Mirror (pop. 1,200), and quickly established a reputation as an outspoken advocate for transparent, responsible and honest local government as safeguards for democracy.
A second son, Michael, was born in 1948.
The Joneses developed a lifelong friendship with author, photographer and human rights champion John Howard Griffin, until his passing in 1980. When his life was threatened following the publication of ’Black Like Me’ (a title suggested to Griffin by Louise Jones), Griffin and family found refuge in the Jones’s home. Jones, Griffin and philosopher Jacques Maritain made a memorable trip to visit poet and activist Thomas Merton at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Ky.
Jones’s liberal, confrontational and controversial opinions in the Mirror led to a firebombing of the paper in 1962. The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors awarded him the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award for Courage in Journalism on July 14, 1963.
Upon retiring from the National Guard in 1963, then Texas Governor John Connally promoted Jones to the rank of Brevet Brigadier General in the Texas National Guard.
Non-existent official protection prompted Jones to attend John Birch protests in Dallas against Adlai Stevenson and Lyndon and Ladybird Johnson in the summer of 1963; he saw first-hand the vitriol fomenting then in Dallas. Jones was covering President Kennedy’s visit to Dallas on November 22, 1963, and was awaiting the president’s arrival at the Dallas Trade Mart when Kennedy was assassinated.
The Mirror’s post-assassination headline, in the largest hot-type size possible, read ’The Disgrace of Dallas.’ His local access to witnesses and others with assassination-related knowledge, led him to identify ’strange deaths’ and disappearing witnesses connected with President Kennedy’s murder. Eventually he published four volumes of ’Forgive My Grief’ a compilation of Mirror editorials.
In addition to his annual Dealey Plaza, Nov. 22, 12:36 p.m., ’moment of silence,’ Jones gave free tours of the assassination sites in Dallas and surrounding communities to hundreds of individuals to educate them about the truth: a domestic conspiracy produced that fateful weekend. Over the decades he was a source of inspiration to dozens of authors, investigators and other skeptics looking into the assassination controversy.
Penn and Louise divorced in 1983 and he married Elaine Kavanaugh. They lived in Boyce, Texas. Jones died in a nursing home in Alvarado, Texas in 1998. Funeral was at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Waxahachie, Texas. In addition to his wife and sons, survivors include Penn’s wife Donna and granddaughters Melis and Nedgie.
Updated by Michael Jones, Dallas, Texas, May 2013