Robert Jones saw something Tuesday night he’d never thought possible. The 103-year-old — a lifelong voter, a grandson of slaves — saw a black man elected president.
“Not in my day. Not in my day,” he said. “I never thought I would see it in my time.”
The Oklahoma City man voted for Barack Obama and watched the election unfold on the big screen TV in his den Tuesday night. It was, Jones said, the most historic day of his life.
“It’ll be a good thing,” he said, “for both sides.”
‘I never saw nothing like it’
Jones’ granddaughter, Victoria Kemp, stood in line for him Nov. 1. He’s healthy, but couldn’t have handled the four-hour wait for early voting at the Oklahoma County Election Board. When he arrived, everyone wanted to talk to him, Kemp said. People burst into spontaneous applause. Strangers took pictures of him.
“He was a rock star,” she said.
Jones said he was shocked to see so many people waiting.
“I was delighted,” said Jones, a thin man with white hair and a quick wit. “I really was. I never saw that many people. I voted a lot of times, but I never saw nothing like it before.”
Jones registered to vote in the early 1930s, but it wasn’t easy in Jim Crow days. The clerk had a habit of being unavailable for new black registrants — being home when someone was at his office, being at his office when someone went to his home. Jones finally caught up with the man and registered. He was determined to vote.
“It was a privilege that I knew that my parents and others hadn’t had,” he said.
‘Segregation was unimaginable’
Jones was born in 1905 outside Hamilton Switch, a black town a few miles north of Okmulgee that’s now called Preston. Soon after, his family moved to Vernon, another black town where Jones grew up safe and relatively insulated from the segregated world beyond. The town was young back then, like Oklahoma.
“The land was new,” he said. “Oklahoma was new.”
The Jones family grew cotton and corn. Parents Sylvester and Ester were good, Christian people — hard-working and strict. Robert’s education was interrupted by demands of the farm, but he graduated by correspondence courses.
He first met his wife, Elizabeth, in Sunday school when they were both 5. He eventually proposed to Elizabeth. They married and moved to Boley. Together they had five children — a son, fraternal twins and two younger daughters.
The Jones family worked as cotton sharecroppers on 120 acres. They lived in three rooms; Jones said it was partly a shack, partly a good house.
One Man, One Vote