When Dorothy Jones speaks, you listen. Not because her voice is the loudest in the room, but because it has a mixture of kindness, confidence and firmness that comes from a life of learning, teaching and triumph.
Dorothy, the granddaughter of Texan sharecroppers and the daughter of a man who did not learn to read until he was 77, grew up to become one of the few Black female professor emerita at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
A graduate of Prairie View A&M University, Dorothy and her husband Lloyd moved to Fairbanks in 1974, after Lloyd was transferred to manage food service on the trans-Alaska pipeline.
Lloyd signed a 12-month contract. That was nearly 50 years ago.
The Joneses raised two children and opened two restaurants in Fairbanks. Lloyd enjoyed fishing and hunting, and the Jones’ children loved playing in the snow. Dorothy herself built a career at UAF teaching computer applications.
Growing up in East Texas and graduating from a historically Black college, she was surrounded by Black educators. At UAF, she suddenly found herself the outlier as the only person of color in her department, often battling the pressure of being the sole representation of her race.
“What the majority race fails to realize, the stress that puts on a person to be in that kind of situation because they are expecting you to represent your race and you are not trying to represent your race,” Dorothy says. “You want to make sure you’re not sliding into the stereotypes that they’ve got going on in their minds.”
She joined with other people of color on campus and created the Black Awareness Student Union in the early ‘80s. The group helped make people aware of the contributions of Black people on campus, in Alaska and across the country.
All these decades later, Dorothy says there’s still work to be done. Especially in education, where Alaskan students can go their entire academic career without ever having a teacher the same race as them.
“There has to be support there for the people when they come in,” she said. “They have to know that they have some place to go, somebody else that they can talk to. … There are students who need to relate to people there.”
Dorothy believes that the current generation will continue to push for things to get better. She’s seen it happen in her lifetime.
“I grew up in Jim Crow, so I drank from the colored fountains,” she said. “I sat in the balcony of the theater. I went to the back door to get a hamburger. And our students are not going to stand for that.”
Dorothy Jones is full of stories gathered over a lifetime. Those stories represent the legacy of generations. Her voice helps to carry the work forward for her family and community.