Toni Baker-Tyson with civil rights Freedom Rider Charles Jones at the 23rd Annual MLK Holiday Breakfast at the Charlotte Convention Center.
Toni Baker-Tyson (right) with civil rights Freedom Rider Charles Jones in 2017 at the 23rd Annual MLK Holiday Breakfast at the Charlotte Convention Center.

Charles Jones, a civil rights activist, Freedom Rider, and founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), has died at 82. WBTV first reported his passing Friday morning.

A native of Chester, South Carolina, Jones relocated to Charlotte at age 10. As a theology student at Johnson C. Smith University, he was active in student government. It became the catalyst to his involvement in the national student political movement.

Jones was returning from Washington, D.C. in 1960 when news came over the radio about the lunch counter sit-in at Woolworth’s Department Store in Greensboro. Four students from North Carolina A&T State University had sat down at the whites-only counter and refused to leave after being denied service.

In a 2012 interview with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, Jones said he met with his JCSU classmates on Feb. 8, 1960 to talk about next steps.

“I don’t know about y’all, but I’m going to put on my Sunday best [church clothes]…and I’m going down to Woolworth’s and sit there until they open up,” he recalled.

He thought a handful of students would show up. Surprising to Jones, 212 JCSU students met him in front of Biddle Hall.

Jones became heavily involved with SNCC, even attending the organization’s inaugural conference at Shaw University in April 1960.

A year later, Jones was arrested as he and three other SNCC members supported the “Friendship Nine” protesters in Rock Hill, South Carolina. The “Friendship Nine” were a group of nine students who refused to be bailed out of jail for sitting-in at McCrory’s department store lunch counter. Instead, they chose to serve 30 days of hard labor on a South Carolina chain gang. “Jail, No Bail” became a signature strategy of civil rights protests. Their convictions were vacated by York County in 2015.

Jones continued his activism as a Freedom Rider and later as an attorney.

Former Charlotte City Council member Justin Harlow said that it was Jones who encouraged him to run for the District 2 seat.

“I met Charles Jones when I moved to Biddleville in 2014,” Harlow wrote in a Facebook post on Friday. “He encouraged me to attend a community meeting. I became President of that neighborhood association, Biddleville-Smallwood Community Organization. He later encouraged me to run and endorsed me for Charlotte City Council. Because of him, I got my start in local leadership in Charlotte.”

Funeral arrangements for Charles Jones have yet to be announced.

Katrina Louis is managing editor of who can always find something to do in Charlotte. She’s an offline hustler (and has the shirt to prove it) but when online, find her on Instagram and Twitter.

Katrina covers Charlotte's Black business scene for QCity Metro. She's a Miami transplant, pescatarian and lover of the arts. She earned a public relations degree from the University of Florida. Got a...