Civil rights activist Joan Jones, the ‘glue that held everything together,’ has died

Joan Jones, a Nova Scotia activist who worked for decades to fight for civil rights in Canada and was one of the founders of Black History Month in Halifax, has died.

Walter Borden, an actor and activist who has known Jones since 1965, confirmed she died on Monday. She was in her 70s.

“Joan was always behind the scenes, she did not like to be out front,” Borden said in a phone interview Monday night from Toronto.

“And so therefore the public at large didn’t know that much about her, but those of us in the movement and in the community knew that she was the glue that held everything together — everything.”

Jones and her husband at the time, Rocky Jones, started the Nova Scotia Project — a social activism organization that tackled racial discrimination.

“Rocky was the founder of that, but Joan was the power behind the throne — the queen of the movement as we called her — and she was to the organization and indeed to the civil rights struggle in Canada,” said Borden.

“Joan was the Angela Davis for us and it was so fitting she and Angela should meet a couple of months ago…. Those of us who had been there since the beginning understood how significant the two of them standing there together was.”

Davis is a well-known African-American civil rights activist who played an integral role in the Black Power movement in the 1960s and 1970s.

Jones, Borden said, played a powerful role behind the scenes.

“Those of us who now have a profile, we all know that we got our learning at the round table in Joan Jones’s kitchen and she was the one who was our biggest supporter, out biggest critic, our everything. She was behind it all,” he said.

Her son, Augy Jones, said his mother’s power and influence behind the scenes is a message to younger activists.

“You get in where you fit in. And sometimes you’re going to be part of a movement and change that you’re name is never, is never called, but that doesn’t mean that you weren’t important,” Jones said in a phone interview from Antigonish, N.S.

“Behind the scenes of most stories that we see in the news that are based on change and equity, there’s always people behind the scenes that are very important,” said Jones. “You can pitch in and be important in a lot of different ways and Joan was very important.”

He said his parents were equally critical in creating civil rights programs and spaces, including Kwacha House, a meeting place where attendees developed ideas for the advancement of black people in Nova Scotia.

“I’m very happy that people are recognizing Joan Jones’s role in the civil rights movement in Canada,” he said.

Borden said Joan Jones’s family was like his second family. He said he lived with them for 25 years. When she passed away, he said her daughter called him to let him know.

“Because she knew, well, she just knew Joan and I were extremely close and really, the two of us were the only real remaining two from that original organization, really,” Borden said.

Borden said he was shocked to hear Jones had died.

He had been in Halifax recently to be in Neptune Theatre’s production of Noises Off and had dinner with her. They talked about politics and social issues.

“It was just a normal thing to launch immediately into that area of our interest and have another round table conversation about all that was going on and how we viewed things. And that was just a couple of weeks ago,” Borden said.

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