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Joyce Stokes Jones was born on December 31, 1929, in Auburn, New York—the home and death place of Harriet Ross Tubman. Jones attended Seward Elementary School and later graduated from West High School in 1948. She met Harry Jones, Jr. in Buffalo, New York, and the two were married on June 16, 1951. Jones graduated from Bryant & Stratton College in June 1952. Jones was a career secretary, and she retired in 1989 after fifteen years as secretary to the president of the Syracuse Common Council. Beginning in the early 1970s, Jones began her thirty years of research and writing about the life and times of her great-great-grandaunt Harriet Ross Tubman.
In 1968, Jones contracted with The Syracuse Herald Journal to write a weekly column called “Black Heritage,” which depicted notable African American figures in American history. During that same year, she produced a children’s segment on black heritage at Channel 9 WSYR. Later in 1970, Jones was commissioned by New Readers Press to write a column entitled “Blacks in Time.” Two years later, she was hired at WCNY/Channel 24 to produce and direct thirty-minute segments on issues within the local black community.
Jones has given numerous presentations to students and congregations and community forums on Harriet Tubman’s life. She has also conducted tours at the Tubman Home. Her travels have taken her to such places as Annapolis, Cambridge, and Bucktown, Maryland. She has also visited St. Catharines, Canada, Cleveland, Ohio, New York City, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Auburn, New York. Jones made these trips in search of relevant information, and she was often led to new and different discoveries about her famous relative.
In 1985, Jones produced a documentary video on Harriet Tubman’s life based on her findings that was called A Conversation with a Living Relative of Harriet Tubman. Later in February 1992, she designed and handcrafted the limited edition Harriet Tubman doll. The doll was modeled after the author’s late daughter, Olivia Babette Jones, who resembled the famous Conductor of the Underground Railroad.
In October 1999, Jones was motivated to compile her research and writings to author Beyond the Underground: Aunt Harriet, Moses of Her People. It chronicles her investigation into circumstances and significant events that shaped the lives of the Green Ross family, while focusing on Harriet Ross Tubman, one of America’s greatest and bravest heroines. It is a poignant story that details the nuances and realities of slavery on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and alludes to the paradox of winning freedom in the northern states and Canada. The backbone of this work explores the relationships between family members, their masters, and friends, all of whom helped to create the Harriet Tubman saga. The manuscript is more dynamic and humbling than is often documented.
Jones was recognized by the Syracuse Common Council for her work to preserve and perpetuate the legacy of Harriet Tubman. She served on the board of directors of the Onondaga Historical Society. She was a member of the Urban League Harriet Tubman Award Committee. She was also awarded the Bethany Baptist Church Spirit of Harriet Tubman Award. The local chapter of the National Organization of Women recognized Jones with its Unsung Heroine Award. She was also inducted into the North Side Hall of Fame.
Jones is retired and resides in Syracuse, New York.