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Jones, Eva

Written by: Unknown
Decade of birth: 1930s
Featured in: 2006

Eva Mae Gaiter Jones was born in Frenchmans Bayou, Arkansas on March 15, 1930. Her parents, James and Tommie Lee Dearing Gaiter, moved the family to Bloomington in 1944 when Eva was 14 years old. Eva attended Bloomington High School where she was known as “Pee Wee”. In the 1948 Aepix yearbook, she chose the quote, “tho’ she is little she is mighty” to describe herself. This determination to succeed engendered an interest in politics and local public affairs; she would engage in these pursuits throughout her life. Though not radical and outspoken enough for some, Jones broke a barrier in Bloomington politics and distinguished herself as a person of high principle.

After graduating BHS, she attended the all-black Cortez Business College in Chicago, graduating with a two-year certificate. She returned to Bloomington, and eventually began a long and successful career at Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in Normal. 

In 1952 she married Illinois State University graduate and Springfield native, James Jones. The couple settled in Bloomington and would have seven children. A friend of hers remembered Jones by stating that “she was a vibrant, friendly person and it was easy to like her. Later, I came to admire her drive and perseverance as she became more involved in community affairs.”

Eva Jones very much cared about young people, especially young members of the Black community in Bloomington-Normal. She was heavily involved with youth activities through her church and took active roles in various parent groups associated with Bloomington Public Schools. But she knew she could do more. In 1969 she announced her candidacy for the Bloomington Board of Education. She was one of ten candidates (and the only person of color) running for two vacant seats. She ran on the platform of “bridging the communication gap.” She felt that breakdowns in communication were at the root of many problems in the school district, in particular the growing racial tensions at Bloomington High School that came to a head from February to May 1970. Jones felt that the school board should represent “ALL” families in Bloomington.

Though she was defeated in the April 1970 election, she was determined and ran again the following year, this time she was the top vote getter. With this win, she became the first person of color elected to a position on the Bloomington Board of Education, and at the time was the only woman serving on the board. Jones’ term began one year after the only teachers’ strike in District 87's history. The period of the 1970s was one of the most unpleasant eras in the history of the District. Animosity between teachers, administrators, and board members was intense.  Even within each group differences of opinion appeared and it took many years before labor strife eased in the district. She spent her final two years on the board as the first Black board president for the district.

Using her experience in District 87 politics, Jones ran again for public office in 1979, this time for an at-large aldermanic seat on the Bloomington City Council. Opposition to her candidacy came from both White and Black members of the community; Whites because of traditional racism, Blacks because many thought she was “selling out” to the established order. She successfully overcame these obstacles and won by a tight margin of just eleven votes. With this win, Jones became the first person of color to sit on the City Council. However, in that same election, voters unexpectedly approved a proposition to reestablish the ward system, which meant Jones’s term was cut short by two years. 

In addition to her elected positions, Jones worked on several local projects such as organizing a West side Baseball League for children from low-income families, serving on the YWCA board, the League of Women Voters, the United Way, several professional organizations and church positions at Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church. In 1983 she received the Bloomington-Normal Human Relations Award for her involvement in local civic and governmental affairs, an organization that she helped establish. Also in 1983 she was one of eight people statewide to receive the Illinois Municipal Human Relations Association’s annual award. Throughout all her civic activities, she continued to work at Firestone Tire and Rubber Co.

On July 19, 1987 Eva Jones died of cancer at the age of 57.  She was buried in Evergreen Memorial Cemetery in Bloomington, IL.