A longtime local educator and leader of Surry County’s African-American community has been chosen as one of eight local citizens who’ll be honored on the “Whittling Wall” in downtown Mount Airy through sculptures of each.
Earlier plans for the project aimed at recognizing individuals who have made significant contributions to the community in music and other fields included seven people.
However, no African-American was among the subjects chosen to be represented with life-size statues on the Whittling Wall located at the corner of North Main and West Oak streets, where men gathered years ago to whittle and swap stories.
In May — months after the plans for the sculptures were put into motion — Mount Airy officials approved a late addition to the project to allow the inclusion of a local African-American, which was requested by Dr. Evelyn Thompson, a leader of that community.
At the time, no specific person had been selected as its wall representative, with that left up to Thompson and others to decide. But Thompson has announced in recent days that Leonidas Harold “L.H.” Jones has been tapped as the subject for that statue.
Jones, who was born in 1915 and died in 1983, is considered a shining example of leadership in Mount Airy.
For 30 years, he was principal of J.J. Jones School, named after his father, a principal for 33 years who pioneered secondary education for local African-Americans.
J.J. Jones School was originally an all-black campus on Jones School Road, which closed with the opening of J.J. Jones Intermediate School on Riverside Drive in the 1990s. Facilities of the old school became home to a number of community agencies, with the site now known as L.H. Jones Family Resource Center.
L.H. Jones followed in his father’s footsteps in trying to create opportunities for minority students through higher learning.
He also was the first African-American to be named to the North Carolina State Board of Elections since the turn of the 20th century.
In addition to his educational career, Jones was well known as a church and Boy Scout leader.
His other civic involvements included chairing the Minority Group Committee of the Mount Airy Planning Board and the board of directors of the Surry Community Action Program. Jones was also a member of the governing board of Yadkin Valley Economic Development District Inc. (YVEDDI), a four-county anti-poverty agency that includes Surry.
Jones earned a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia State College and a master’s degree in education from West Virginia University. He and his wife Eleanor adopted two children, Linwood and Gail.
In May, when city officials agreed to add a sculpture of a then-unnamed African-American to the Whittling Wall, there was support for the municipality allocating funding for that statue, a sum of around $8,000. However, based on comments from Thompson, city officials recognized the fact that community members wanted to contribute to the cause.
At a meeting last Thursday night, the board of commissioners approved an accounting-related measure regarding the Whittling Wall. They amended the project plans to include setting aside $8,400 in city funds for the Jones statue to ensure its timely inclusion among the others that a Reidsville artist was commissioned to create.
Commissioner Jon Cawley offered clarification for this action by pointing out that the city government allocation would be offset by public contributions toward the L.H. Jones likeness.
“The monies that are collected from whatever method,” Cawley said, “will go against that cost.”
Those measures include a GoFundMe account being established online to raise money for the Jones statue, which had generated $1,740 at last report among 17 different people in just four days.
Checks payable to The African American Historical & Genealogical Society also can be mailed to P.O. Box 7144, Mount Airy, NC, 27030.
Up to this point, funding was secured for the Whittling Wall project through a $94,340 grant from the N.C. Department of Commerce and $10,582 from an anonymous donor to make up for an initial funding shortfall.
Others to be honored through statues along the wall are Donna Fargo, a Grammy-winning country and pop singer who grew up in Mount Airy and now lives in Nashville; old-time fiddler Tommy Jarrell; Ralph Epperson, the founder of local radio station WPAQ, a flagship for the traditional mountain music of this region;
Also, Fred Cockerham, an old-time banjo player and fiddler; Flip Rees, a longtime retailer in downtown Mount Airy; and two other figures portraying an anonymous whittler (reflecting the history of the wall as a gathering place) and a mill worker to honor Mount Airy’s textile heritage.
The statues will be brick sculptures, reflecting a medium dating to ancient Babylon hailed as a durable art form that blends in with other settings.
A dedication ceremony for the Whittling Wall project has been set for September.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.