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Johnnie Jones Sr.
*Johnnie Jones, Sr., was born on this date in 1919. He was a Black soldier, lawyer, and Louisiana state legislator.
Johnnie A. Jones was born in West Feliciana Parish near Woodville, Mississippi, in Laurel Hill, Louisiana. One of eight children, he was the son of lease sharecropping farmers Henry E. Jones and Sarah Ann Coats and the paternal great-grandson of Emily Bowers, a formerly enslaved mulatto passing as white. He attended elementary school up to the sixth grade in the West Feliciana Parish school board system. Jones's parents were considered one of the most successful Black farmers. Jones attended high school at the Southern University Demonstration School (now known as Southern Lab).
After graduating from Southern University, Jones was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943. He was assigned to the 494th Port Battalion, an all-Black unit attached to the 6th Engineer Special Brigade. They took part in Operation Overlord, leading to the invasion of Normandy, France (D-Day) at Omaha Beach. Jones served as a Warrant officer (United States) responsible for leading a unit unloading equipment and supplies. He was the first Black Warrant officer (United States) (Junior Grade) in the U.S. Army. Jones and the 494th Port Battalion landed in the third wave of the Normandy invasion on D-Day, June 7, 1944.
Jones was injured on Omaha Beach, sustaining a back injury from his ship hitting a mine and receiving shrapnel wounds to the neck from German air attacks and sniper rounds. Around 2,000 Black troops took part in the Normandy invasion in several different roles. During World War II, he continued to serve in the Northern France campaign on the Western Front at the Battle of the Bulge.
After military service, he became a civil rights attorney associated with the 1953 Baton Rouge bus boycott, the first large-scale bus boycott challenging segregation in the 1950s in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The Baton Rouge Boycott was a precursor to the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. Jones served as a Louisiana House of Representatives member from 1972 to 1976.
On June 26, 2021, the U.S. Army awarded Jones a Purple Heart, 77 years after Shrapnel injured Jones. The ceremony, held at the Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge, was attended by various dignitaries, including retired Lt. General Russel L. Honoré, Joey Strickland, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs, and U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy. They pinned the medal onto Jones' jacket. General James McConville, the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, commended Jones, noting, "We owe you [Mr. Jones] a debt of gratitude for your sacrifices during World War II and for being a role model for African Americans aspiring to serve."
Johnnie A. Jones, Sr., died on April 23, 2022.