By DON STINE
Ermon K. Jones, who opened the door for African-Americans to teach at Neptune High School and who filed a lawsuit to fight housing discrimination which went all the way to the New Jersey Supreme Court, died May 7. He was 92.
The legacy of the life-long Neptune resident who fought racial prejudice and injustice for most of his life was celebrated at this week’s Neptune Township Committee meeting,
Committeeman Michael Brantley, who was a fellow fraternity brother of Jones in the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, said he knew Jones well and spent many Christmas’s at his house in the Gables section of Neptune
“He was a real trailblazer and was an inspiration to a lot of people. As a leader, he had to take a lot of heat but he always took it anyway,” he said.
Mayor Kevin McMillan called Jones “an institution in the area of civil rights.
“And he always wanted us to know our responsibilities in this area as well,” he said.
Midtown Urban Renaissance Corporation founder and past president Gail Oliver said she believes she speaks for many in praising Jones and his civil rights struggles. Jones was a MURC trustee for about 18 years.
“When I think of Ermon fondly, there are so many positive, descriptive words that are appropriate. His legacy is huge- his passion for equality in education, housing and employment are enormous. His fight was consistent throughout- indelible and beyond.
“We who were given the privilege of spending quality time with him are all saddened and at the same time richer to have experienced a freedom fighter within our midst. He left us a broad footprint and blueprint for which to carry on the struggle. He literally fought for causes until his last breath. The challenge is- will we?
“He fought the good fight and now he will wear his crown in glory and join his dear wife, Blanche, and fellow trailblazers Tom and Maxine Daniels and Jim Terrell.”
Born in 1924 Jones was a life-long Neptune resident who went through the township’s school system graduating from high school in 1942. He was the first African-American allowed to play on the high school’s basketball team and was one of its highest point scorers.
He then enrolled in Monmouth Jr. College (now Monmouth University) but joined the Army in April 1943. After being discharged in late 1944, Jones attended Morgan State University in Baltimore under the GI Bill, where he also played basketball. He received a Bachelor of Science Degree and went on to obtain a Master’s Degree from the Teachers College at Columbia University in 1951.
After getting his teacher’s degree from Columbia, Jones was told that Neptune did not hire African-American teachers in the high school and he and the NAACP filed a de facto segregation suit against the Board of Education.
“I think we had a tremendous impact upon the educational opportunities in Neptune because we hassled with the local Board of Education alleging and claiming that equal education opportunities did not exist for African-American students. As a result of that, a suit was filed and there was a change in the educational system in Neptune. Equal educational opportunities were given to African-American students,” he said in a past interview.
Jones then began a 34-year career working at Fort Monmouth in engineering and became the fort’s Chief of the Equal Employment Opportunity Office in 1969.
During the time of the American civil rights movement, Jones joined the Asbury Park/Neptune branch of the NAACP, serving as the Education Chairman and was also its president in 1969-1970 at a time when riots rocked Asbury Park’s West Side community. He remained a life-long member of the NAACP.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Jones sought to purchase a house under the GI Bill but he was denied the right to purchase a home in the new Gables development in Neptune, off Route 33, because he was Africa-American.
He filed a lawsuit against the Haridor Realty Corp. (T/A Asbury Gables) and others charging racial discrimination in housing- a case that was eventually argued by the New Jersey Supreme Court on March 20, 1962.
According to court documents, Gables developer Harold Strauss said to an investigator of the state Division on Civil Rights: “No law or no one is going to force me to sell to a Negro a house in this development. Now, if this man wants a house, let him find a plot and I’ll build it for him. Before I will sell to a Negro in this development, I will close up the development.”
In its May 21, 1962 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that “All persons shall have the opportunity to obtain all the…advantages, facilities, and privileges of…publicly-assisted housing accommodation, and other real property without discrimination because of race, creed, color, national origin or ancestry, subject only to conditions and limitations applicable alike to all persons. This opportunity is recognized as and declared to be a civil right.”
Due to this ruling, Jones not only had an impact on housing opportunities for Neptune residents but also for African-Americans throughout New Jersey. It was in this same house that Jones lived until he died May 7.
“Ermon was not only instrumental in opening the Gables to diversity but also in opening the eyes of people in Neptune. He was a man who stood up and stood out and we were lucky to have him be a member of this township,” Committeeman Randy Bishop said.
Jones also was involved in the Head Start and many other social and civil rights programs during his life, always with the loving support of his wife Blanche, who died in 2014.
A viewing will be held on Monday, May 16 at the Second Baptist Church, 124 Atkins Avenue in Asbury Park. It will begin at 8 a.m. and continue until 10 a.m. A funeral service will then be held in the church after the viewing.
A special fraternal service, which is open to the public, will be conducted by the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity at 9 a.m.