Williamstown woman is witness to change

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By Jamie Baker-Nantz

A tear squeezed from the corner of Della Jones’ eye on Jan. 20 as she watched Barack Obama take the podium to be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States.


She dabbed at her eyes with a crumpled tissue.

“Hallelujah,” she said softly to no one in particular.

During Obama’s speech, she bobbed her head in agreement and smiled.

Jones, who will turn 106 years old in July, continued to hope that she’d live to see the day that an African American would be elected as president.

“I never thought I’d see this day,” she said.

“A day we’ve chosen hope over fear, but it’s here. It’s here,” she repeated.

From a wheelchair inside her Williamstown home, proudly wearing an “Obama ‘08 T-shirt, her dark, sparkling eyes never left her television screen on Tuesday. Not until, Obama walked former President George W. and Laura Bush to the helicopter that would take them to their home in Texas.

“Dr. Martin Luther King prayed he’d see the day come when we would see change and a man was judged not by the color of his skin, but the character in his heart,” she said.

Jones has not only watched significant historic events unfold, she’s lived this country’s history.

Jones came of age during the Great Depression and watched the country struggle with segregation followed by integration.

She left her family and attended a black teacher’s college in Shelby County. Her first teaching job took her to Wayne County. She spent just a year there before accepting a position in the Boone County School System where she taught for four years.

Her marriage to Bradley Jones put an end to her dreams of being a teacher. In those days, married women were not allowed to teach, but Jones knew that someday she’d return to the classroom.

The couple adopted a child and she spent the next 13 years at home, but when the Legislature changed the laws and allowed married women to teach, she didn’t hesitate.

She returned to teaching at a one room school for black children in New Liberty. She boarded with an Owen County family and returned home on weekends to the Williamstown house on Cynthiana Street she has lived in since she was 18 years old.

She continued teaching at segregated schools for black children and following integration, she became the librarian at Owen County High School.

Because education was important to her, she returned to college at Kentucky State and earned her bachelor’s degree in 1957. Dr. Martin Luther King was the commencement speaker.

She considers that the most significant event she witnessed, that is until Jan. 20, 2009.

“I’ve just been thanking the Lord, last night and all day today, that I lived to see it,” she said.

No detail of Obama’s inauguration was too small. Jones wanted to remember, to savor them all.

“Who was that singer?” she asked, referring to Aretha Franklin, who performed a soulful rendition of “My Country Tis Of Thee.”

“I feel wonderful today,” she said. “Look how far we’ve come.”

As Obama addressed the thousands assembled in Washington and the millions who tuned in to see history in the making, a slow smile crossed Jones’ lips.

“Let us endure the storms to come,” Obama said from the television.

“Yes, yes,” she murmured.

“God bless America,” Obama said as he ended his speech.

“Oh, amen,” Jones cried in delight.

Realizing she wasn’t alone, Jones became slightly embarrassed.

“I almost hollered out a couple times,” she said. “I just think about how far the black race has come. We’ve overcome so many obstacles. I’m just so happy this day has come.”