By Alison Barnet
John Jones, 74, passed away earlier this month after a long battle with lung cancer.
Those from the neighborhood will miss seeing him sitting on a bench outside the South End library, at Sparrow Park or Sarni Cleaners (now Utopia), and at a library table reading newspapers. He also volunteered at the food pantry at Union United Methodist Church.
He was born on Martha’s Vineyard and may have been a Chappaquiddick Indian, as his family claimed, but John always insisted, “I go by Black.”
Likeable, interesting, and honest, Johnny, as he was known, knew the South End well, having grown up here from age 7. He told great stories about people of the past (and sometimes the present): Lucille Banks, Anna Bobbitt Gardner, Allan Crite. He remembered Owen’s barbershop, Sonnabend’s pawnshop, going to dances at Tremont Methodist Church, and he loved “dives” like Handy’s and the Party Café.
Raised on West Canton Street by an aunt by marriage, he went to local schools, the Rice and Franklin (later Mackey), then to the Timilty and Brighton High, where he graduated. His very first job was at Knight Drug, at Camden and Washington Streets, a job Mel King helped him get. He worked at Harvard as crew chief of Facilities and Maintenance for 26 years and also worked at banks.
He often told this story: At the time of the 1968 Tent City demonstrations, he had a job at Bank of New England and didn’t want to be arrested. So he spent the night in a tent—“I loved it.”
He lived on Greenwich Park, getting evicted when the house was sold, and in recent years on W. Newton Street. It was on W. Newton Street that he died, stressed out apparently after being relocated during IBA’s renovation of the block.
A neighbor has suggested a memorial fountain or bird feeder at the Library Park in memory of Johnny feeding the birds. A sister of his will bring his body home to Martha’s Vineyard.