Dr. Herman and Barbara Jones conquered color barriers with intellect, resolve, grace
Dr. Herman Jones, Jr. and his wife Barbara moved to Southridge from Lake Quivira in 2014. The following article was written by Lakeview Village residents Jim and Joan Davies for The Quiviran in 2013.
The Jones’ story begins in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1943, when Herman, having just graduated from high school at the age of 16, enlisted in the US Navy. Fortunately, the Navy had ceased automatically expecting all black recruits to be cooks and/or stewards and had begun a new policy of placing black recruits into any of the mainstream Naval programs. Herman chose to become a member of the Naval Air group. After his basic training, he trained as an Aviation Machinist Mate and served at the Navy Experimental Air Base in Pennsylvania, finishing his three years of service as an Airman 1st class. After his Naval service, he returned to his hometown of Nashville and enrolled at Fisk University. This is where he met his bride to be, Barbara Orange, an only child of a Chicago physician and former KC Monarch baseball player. Herman’s father was a Methodist minister.
One month after they both graduated from Fisk University in 1950, Herman and Barbara were married a month before Herman entered Medical school at Meharry Medical College in Nashville. After finishing medical school in 1954, the “new” Dr. Jones moved to Redding, PA, to complete an internship in surgery at Community General Hospital. He was grinning when he said, “There were only two other interns at the time; one was Italian and the other was Pennsylvanian Dutch. When we three finished our internships, the Pennsylvanian invited me and the Italian doctor to a graduation celebration in his hometown, all the while warning us that the people there had probably never seen a black man or met an Italian!” As it turned out, this was far from the first time or the last time that Herman Jones would be the only black man in a group.
In 1955, knowing that Kansas was a “free state” and that the Supreme Court had successfully ruled on the Brown v. the Board of Education separate but equal act, Dr. Jones believed Kansas City would be the ideal place to complete a residency in surgery at Kansas City General II, leading to his long term goal of becoming a surgeon. Quickly, he discovered this “Kansas City” hospital was in Missouri, which was very different from “free state” Kansas. To his amazement, he realized there were two separate Kansas City General Hospitals; #1 existed for whites and #2 existed for blacks, not only for the patients but for the doctors as well. Even though a tunnel connected the two buildings, the black doctors were not able to cross over to treat patients.
During his “off” hours, Herman and Barbara spent the next year crossing various bridges to get to Kansas City, Kansas, where they were welcomed in restaurants, movie theaters and able to drink out of a community drinking fountain. Having experienced these positive experiences in KCK, they decided to move to Topeka, Kansas, where Herman opened a General Medicine practice above a “white” drug store in downtown Topeka. He was amazed when his first patient was a white person! As his practice thrived during the next three years, Dr. Jones was the only black doctor on the staffs of both major Topeka hospitals, Stormont Vail Hospital and St. Francis Hospital. He was welcomed into the Medical Society of Topeka as the first black member, while Barbara was active in the Women’s Auxiliary group.
As the Joneses settled into Topeka, Herman became the Chairman of the local chapter of NAACP, then celebrating the success of the Brown v. Board of Education in the US Supreme Court. He said, “I thought that the case was very strange because at the time, there was only one high school in Topeka, and all students, regardless of color, attended Topeka High School.”
Continuing, Herman told of another event which altered the course of their lives somewhat. Every year the Medical society in Topeka held an annual Doctors’ Ball, which he and Barbara had never attended. After three years and having met another black doctor and his wife, the two couples decided to attend. When they contacted the group for tickets, they were denied tickets and were told the Topeka Country Club, which had a policy of not admitting or serving blacks, was the venue for that year’s annual Ball. Quite a controversy evolved, yet Herman and Barbara quietly and calmly decided rather than escalate the problem at the late date, the two couples would not attend. Rather, the Jones’ decided perhaps if they had regularly participated in the social events in the past, the Medical Society would have insisted the country club rules be changed or the event would be moved elsewhere. From that date forward, both Herman and Barbara participated both socially and professionally in the medical community. This is just one of many stories of the couple’s rational and calm approach to solving the racist problems they encountered.
Herman still dreamed of becoming a surgeon, so he entered into a Surgical Residency with the VA Hospital in Wadsworth, Kansas (now Leavenworth KS). Kansas University (KU) administered this 4-year program, which included doctors working at St. Luke’s Hospital in KCMO. Dr. Jones was accepted into St. Luke’s staff as the first black doctor to practice there. He said, “Since the hospital didn’t readily admit black patients at that time, my patients were all white people, as were my colleagues from KU. We residents ate and snacked together in the doctors’ cafeteria, but one day I went in alone, asking to be served like always. When the mostly black hospital service staff saw me sitting alone in the dining room, they believed maybe the rules had finally changed!”
Following the completion of this residency in 1963, Herman began a successful surgical practice in KCK, adding staff as his practice expanded, then erecting a Doctors’ building with nine other doctors in downtown KCK. He was now practicing in all of the major hospitals in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Ironically, he ended up teaching residents in the old Kansas City General Hospital #1 (Truman Hospital at this time) from which he was originally denied entrance.
His list of service positions in the ensuing years is remarkable. He served on the advisory council for several Chancellors of KU, starting with Archie Dykes. He is an honorary Colonel of the Kansas Calvary since 1978 (KU people will know this as a Public Relations group that recruits outstanding high school students into the KU program). He was the medical president of Providence Hospital in 1971 and Bethany Hospital in 1982. He served on the Medical School Admissions Committee for KU from 1978 to 1981. The list includes at least another dozen and a half medical and civic organizations for which he has given so generously of his time and talents.
Upon Dr. Jones’s retirement from the VA Hospital in Kansas City, MO, in 2005 at the age of 80, then KC Mayor Kay Barnes wrote the following proclamation about his service to our area: “ …Whereas, Dr. Jones was the first African-American physician to practice at St. Luke’s Hospital, and he was one of the first to practice at Queen of the World Hospital, Dr. Jones tolerated the problem of segregation in civic, educational and medical institutions and weathered the racism that has been a lasting, if troubling, theme in America. Dr. Jones is well known as a consummate professional and an outstanding teacher. He is deeply respected by colleagues and beloved by the many patients he has served over the years, and he will be missed when he retires from his position at the Veterans Hospital…Now, therefore, I, Kay Barnes, Mayor of Kansas City, MO, do hereby salute Dr. Herman H. Jones and congratulate him on this important milestone.”
Throughout these same years, Barbara and Herman have raised four accomplished children. Oldest son, Herman H. Jones, III, a Stanford University graduate, is an emergency room physician in New Orleans; son, Dwayne E. Jones, MDS from Harvard, Is a pain specialist, managing three pain clinics in the KC area. Dwayne lives with his wife and four children in neighboring Saddle Brook; Daughter Pamela was recruited to attend school at Professional Children’s School in New York before becoming a member of the Dance Theater of Harlem. Pamela was honored to be the first black teenager to ever appear on the cover of Seventeen Magazine, which occurred in January of 1972 when she was 18 years old.
Pamela now works as a nurse in NYC. Their other daughter, Donna, went to New York years ago to visit her sister. She loved New York and began working with Bill Blass and later started her own design company in Milan, Italy. There she met her husband, the love of her life, and is now Donna Jones Badocci. These accomplished children have also produced eight grandchildren for the Jones, four living in Saddle Brook, three in Milan and one in New Orleans. One of the grandchildren, Adriana, from Milan, is now living with Herman and Barbara, attending Shawnee Mission NW so she can attend an American university after graduation this May.
Herman and Barbara have a bit more time since Herman officially retired in 2005. True to his amazing gifts, talents, work ethic, and his desire to make a difference, Herman confided to us that after 2005, he continued to work as a consultant to the Coroner of The Unified Government of Wyandotte County.
What an honor it was to learn from the Jones about the history of their lives together.