Virvus Jones

I have been involved in politics or civil rights since 1963.

In 1963, Medgar Evers was assassinated in front of his home in Jackson, Mississippi; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his landmark “I have a dream” speech at the March on Washington; the St. Louis branch of the CORE began the Jefferson Bank demonstrations; and four young black girls were murdered in Birmingham, Alabama.

In September of that year, I joined the picket lines at Jefferson Bank with some other black teenage activists. I was arrested twice. That was 57 years ago. Since that year, the constant theme in my life has been activism. I have been arrested 23 times for my participation in various movements.

In 1981, I was elected alderman of the 27th Ward. I became the 11th black aldermen in the history of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, which was formed nearly 70 years before in 1914. In 1986, I became the second black assessor appointed in St. Louis history, and in 1988 I was appointed St. Louis comptroller in a political swap orchestrated by then-Mayor Vincent Schoemehl and black political leadership. I will detail how the swap was done in a book titled The Swap that I plan to publish later this year.

Over the years, I have met and known a lot of people. Other than my children, spouses or partners, my best friend and confidante has been Donald M. Suggs, the current publisher and executive editor of The St. Louis American. I met him in 1970. Doc, as his friends call him (he is an oral surgeon by training), was part of a group of black medical professionals who provided financial and moral support to help fund the Civil Rights Movement in St. Louis. They gave back.

In 1981, the same year I was elected to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, Suggs and two other investors bought The St. Louis American. Except for the time I was forced to take a sabbatical from St. Louis, there have been very few weeks when Doc and I have not talked to each other at least once.

In 1998, I began writing a political column for The St. Louis American under the pseudonym of “Mark Wilson.” I choose that pseudonym as a tribute to a column that Bennie Rodgers, longtime editor of The American, had written using the pseudonym “Farley Wilson.” I told those who asked that Mark was the son of Farley Wilson.

Later the name was changed to the “Political EYE.” Over the years, it evolved into a group-written column supervised by Suggs. In recent years, my direct contributions have been minimal.

Over the years, elected officials have liked the EYE until they didn’t. They liked it when it said complimentary things about them and hated when it said uncomplimentary things about them. This is normal and expected. 

Since my daughter Tishaura O. Jones became an elected official and candidate, complaints about the column have grown more pointed, with her political opponents accusing the EYE and The American generally of being partial to Tishaura. That is also normal and expected.

It came to mind most recently when 20th Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer, who is running for mayor, told The American’s managing editor that she was “disappointed” that the paper had written about insensitive arguments made on her behalf by Schoemehl without talking to her. Schoemehl, she said, did not speak for her any more than I speak for Tishaura.

I think Spencer is telling the truth, particularly since her campaign followed up with a disavowal of Schoemehl’s words and tone as complete as anything the EYE would have written about the incorrigible ex-mayor. 

It made me wonder if my thousand opinions, interests, and memories belonged in The American in anything other than my personal voice when Tishaura will be running in an election or two. I wondered whether my daughter would have to write apologetic emails about my meddling. 

She won’t. I have retired from The American’s editorial board. The board had its first meeting without my being invited (other than during the 2017 mayoral campaign) on Thursday, February 27. I was informed that the Rev. Starsky Wilson has agreed to join the board. Rev. Wilson is a not a replacement for me; he represents a vast improvement.

For those who may be preparing to celebrate my departure, don’t start popping the champagne bottles just yet. I plan to stay active on social media. Because of my membership on The American’s editorial board, I sometimes had to restrain my comments on social media. I will now be freer to express my opinions without impacting the editorial integrity of the paper. Be careful what you wish for. 

And thank you for reading.

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