Mourning the loss of Clara Stanton Jones

DPL's first woman and African American Executive Director dies at the age of 99.

Clara Araminta Stanton, born on May 14, 1913 in St. Louis, Missouri, was the older of two children of Etta James Stanton and Ralph Herbert Stanton along with her beloved younger sister Esi (Etta).  She also had three loving older brothers, LaJoy, Lawrence and Herbert who were offspring of her father's previous marriage and whose mother passed when they were young. 

Clara and her sister grew up in St Louis with their mother, a school teacher, and father, an insurance man and surrounded by a large and close extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents.  She spoke lovingly of the joy of weekends and summers when all of the relatives would gather at their grandparents' house in Carondolet on the outskirts of St. Louis. It was a forgone conclusion that all five of the children would go to college. Thus, the three boys went off to college at Marquette University in Wisconsin when Clara was quite young (since there were no colleges that would accept African American males in the state of Missouri). 

Clara's love for reading began at a very young age. She was always an excellent student and said that reading would take her to lands and places that fascinated her. She developed quite an imagination and zest for life.  Some days she would play tennis from sun up to sun down.  Hearing of the adventures of her brothers in college far off, Clara dreamed of having the experience of going away to college also. Clara graduated from Sumner High School in 1929 and, like many  young professional women of her day, planned to become an elementary school teacher. Her dream was fulfilled when she was able to attend  Milwaukee State Teachers College (MSTC) for one year before transferring to Spelman College.  While at MSTC, Clara was one of only six black students in the entire school, and combined her academic studies with courses in modern dance and tennis and part-time jobs to help defray her college expenses.  She also changed her mind about teaching and transferred to Spelman College in Atlanta,  completed  her undergraduate studies in 1934 and two years later went north to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to earn her degree in library science.  Her class at Spelman was the first to be allowed to dance at their graduation in 1934.  Also, ironically, Clara could not use the public library in Atlanta since it was segregated at the time.

While working at the Atlanta University library to save money for graduate school at the University of Michigan, Clara met and often had lunch with W.E.B. Dubois who guided her reading and who really inspired her.  Dubois was on the faculty there. She also met her future husband of 70 years at the library, Albert DeWitt Jones, who was doing graduate work in social work at Atlanta University.

Clara and Albert married in St. Louis on June 25,1938 after she completed graduate work in library science at the University of Michigan. They lived in New Orleans for several years where Clara worked in the library  at Dillard and Southern Universities..  The couple  had their first two children in New Orleans, Stanton William and Vinetta Claire.  They moved to Detroit in 1944 when Clara accepted a job as librarian in the Detroit Public Library system.  Their third child , Kenneth Albert, was born in Detroit. 

Albert worked many years as a social worker after attending graduate school at the University of Michigan and Wayne State University and receiving a Masters in Social Work at the latter.  Clara's library career culminated in her being appointed the first Black person to head a major public library system (Detroit), the first to be elected as President of the American Library Association and the first person to be named visiting Regents Scholar in Library Science at the University of California, Berkeley. Clara and Albert retired and moved from Detroit to Oakland, California, in 1978. Other highlights of Clara's career included:

  • She advocated and won the passing of the "Resolution on Racism and Sexism Awareness" in 1977 despite the ALA's Intellectual Freedom Committee's recommendation to the ALA Executive Board that the resolution be rescinded. She wrote, "The spirit of the "Resolution on Racism and Sexism Awareness" is not burdened with repression; it is liberating. If the resolution is imperfect, try to make it perfect, but not by destroying it first!"
  • Clara founded the community referral system called TIP -- for "The Information Place" while she was Director in Detroit.  TIP was replicated in libraries throughout the country. It helped people get in touch with all kinds of agencies. There was no Google then. TIP was huge, and is still used extensively. In 1984 in Oakland, Clara founded a Black women's dialogue group, Black Women Stirring the Waters, where the special perspectives of black women  were explored in a full range of fields: education, art, politics, the media, literature, health, history, genealogy, culture, technology, business, social and economic trends and foreign policy. In 1997 because of their concern about the media's failure to provide realistic images of black women in all their diversity,  the group published a book of 46 members' vignettes on their lives as a legacy to be passed on.
  • President Jimmy Carter appointed Jones as Commissioner to the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science in 1978. She served this post until 1982.
  • Jones received the Trailblazer Award in 1990 from the Black Caucus of the ALA (American Library Association), the highest award given by BCALA. The award recognizes individuals whose pioneering contributions have been outstanding and unique, and whose efforts have "blazed a trail" in the profession.
  • In 1975 Clara received The University of Michigan Athena award, the highest award for an outstanding graduate for Humanitarian Service. In 1978 She received the Distinguished Service Award from Wayne County Community College.
  • For her pioneering work in urban libraries promoting them as a tool for opportunity for all, the people's university, she was awarded honorary doctorate degrees at her beloved Spelman, the University of Michigan and scores of other colleges and universities across the country.

Clara and Albert nurtured their three children with expectations of excellence and a sense of responsibility reflected in the phrase, "Those to whom much is given, much is expected/required."  Their older son, Stanton, a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel and combat pilot, is Owner of Stanton W. Jones & Associates Management Consulting.. Vinetta is a professor of educational psychology and former Dean of the School of Education at Howard University. Kenneth is a nuclear engineer and former Vice President of Northrop Grumman, a White House Fellow, and is now Director of Programs at Saft America. Clara and Albert have served as loving role models to their seven Grandchildren: Allison, an attorney, Ellen Marie, a research scientist, Angela, an MBA and entrepreneur, Stanton, an attorney, Clair an engineer and Hazel and Albert, college students.  The couple also had seven great grandchildren: Brittany, a student at Howard University, Elijah, Joshua, Harvis, Brandon, Clara (her namesake) and Amelia.  Clara was a devoted wife and mother and loving friend to so many.  She had two daughters-in-law, Linda and Gladys.

Reflections on Clara in her family role are clear -----she was the heart of our family.  To touch her was to feel unconditional love.  She could find some good or a lesson to be learned in whatever we did. (Our father sometimes had a different perspective on our behavior that did not measure up in some area.) She was so soft and yet so strong. She loved life, she loved people.  However, any adversaries of the Detroit Public Library, civil rights or her family who tangled with her found themselves outmatched.  With her active career and busy schedule, she always made us feel we were the most important thing in the world to her.  Even as adults when we would visit my parents at home, we would call it "going back to the well" to be renewed. She did do it all.

When we think of Clara the woman, the devoted mother, wife, grandmother, great grandmother, aunt and friend, the matriarch of our family, the words that come to mind are: strength, gentleness, grace, beauty, brilliance, compassion, success, honor, wisdom, love and yes, she was regal. We are blessed to have had her, both in quality and longevity, 99 years.  Now she will be with us always in our hearts.  Her legacy is a beautiful life well lived --- truly a renaissance woman.


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