If you’re a long-time Alamedan, you know him. He might have been your teacher, therapist or coach. Perhaps you recognize him as a two-time City Council candidate, a competitive master swimmer or abstract painter. If you’re newer to the Island (and still brave driving down Park Street on a weekend day), you know him as the imposing white-haired figure with the booming voice, holding a Black Lives Matter placard at the corner of Santa Clara every Saturday at noon.
Ashley Jones’ activism began more than five decades ago, and his rebellion even earlier. At the age of five he’d already developed an instinctual distrust of authority, and “since then any authority that has not measured up, I’ve been rebellious against.”
An experience that served to solidify this distrust and disgust occurred when Jones was in the fifth grade. Four of his classmates were suddenly removed from class and disappeared without explanation. The students were of Japanese descent, and later discovered to have been incarcerated at Manzanar Internment camp with their families. The visceral feeling of not knowing where they went or why this had happened haunts him to this day. As he puts it, “You can’t erase hatred.”
As Jones tells it, the pivotal point came in 1964. “When I first saw Mario Savio standing on top of a cop car with a megaphone in Berkeley, that was it! It opened me up. I realized I’d been living too comfortably.”
That same year Jones joined the NAACP. At that time the residents of the Estuary Housing Projects were being effectively displaced and pushed out of Alameda. On a Sunday afternoon Jones and fellow protestors began a three-day camp-out in Franklin Park to protest. They endured the city turning on sprinklers, racist shouts and threats from neighbors. But an ensuing City Council meeting resulted in a positive outcome, and the protest was considered a victory.
Throughout the years while Jones served in the Navy, protested the Vietnam War and fought for civil rights, his 48-year marriage served as ballast. He and Lynn, a Jungian Psychoanalyst, bought their Alameda home in 1955 and raised four daughters. Jones lives there to this day. Lynn passed in 2003.
There are now six grandchildren and a new great-grandson. Jones says of Lynn, “She shared my beliefs and convictions, but she was the introvert, while I’m an extrovert.” Jones moved to the Anderson Valley for a time after Lynn’s death. There, he built a studio, got serious about his painting, and enjoyed the quiet lifestyle before returning home to Alameda.
No one could be more rooted in Alameda. Jones taught history at Alameda High School for more than two decades. He’s taught at Haight Elementary School and run programs for Island High School. He’s served as swimming and water polo coach to several generations. As a licensed psychotherapist he counseled countless individuals and couples in his private practice, and ran encounter groups for teens. In 1967 he ran for City Council, and again 40 years later in 2007. He smiles and shrugs as he recounts, “I got 4,000 votes each time. I needed 10,000.”
Today, Jones’ activism revolves around the same core issues. He notes, “I always take the side of the oppressed. It’s always the same. Those who have, don’t know how to share.” At 86, Jones is still substitute teaching at Alameda High School, and swimming half a mile a day. I suggested the title for this piece might be, “Where there’s Ash, there’s fire.” He countered, “Well, it’s a cute pun, but ashes imply the fire is out. And that is not the case!”
(Alameda Sun, January, 2018)