As the first black associate evangelist of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), Jones traveled the world with Graham and handled much of the groundwork for the evangelist’s African crusade in 1960.
He was the principal speaker for BGEA’s “Hour of Freedom” radio broadcast for 35 years and became the first African American to be inducted into the National Religious Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1995.
Although he was not able to attend the memorial service in person, Mr. Graham sent the following statement to the family: “Howard Jones was one of my best friends. He did more for race relations among evangelicals than any other person of his generation. Howard was a deeply spiritual person, and I loved him in Christ.
“I look forward to the day when we shall be reunited in heaven before the One to Whom Howard gave his life and ministry in service. I send my prayers and love to each of his children, grandchildren and extended family,” Graham concluded.
According to his obituary, Jones was born April 12, 1921, in Cleveland, Ohio. Attending high school in Oberlin, Jones played saxophone in a jazz band but gave up music for ministry. He graduated from Oberlin High School and Nyack College in New York. He married Wanda K. Young of Oberlin in 1944.
Jones spent eight years as pastor of Bethany Christian Missionary Alliance Church in the Bronx, N.Y., and began preaching on the radio there. Then came six years as pastor of Smoot Memorial Christian Missionary Alliance Church in Cleveland.
In 1957, he spent three months in Liberia. He was returning to Cleveland through New York when Graham asked him to help integrate a pending crusade at Madison Square Garden. Jones led big rallies in Harlem and Brooklyn and persuaded many worshipers to join him downtown.
Soon he was a full-time Graham associate, traveling the world, preparing crusades and leading some himself. In 1961 alone, he led crusades in Philadelphia, Liberia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan and Kenya.
In Gospel Trailblazer: An African-American Preacher’s Historic Journey Across Racial Lines, written with Edward Gilbreath, Jones said, “There’s a mixed blessing to being the first African-American to realize some key achievement in the United States. It is an honor to overcome a barrier that has long kept blacks on an unequal footing with whites. But, along with the outer triumph, there is an inner ache—an angst—of having to live with the often unfriendly fallout of going where no black man has ever gone before.
“It’s the pressure of knowing your every word and action has the potential to make or break the hopes of millions of others who will come after you.”
Read an interview with Howard Jones from the August 2002 edition of Decision magazine here.