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The University of Alabama

Paul R. Jones, Founder of UA Jones Collection of American Art, Dies at 81

Paul R. Jones

Paul R. Jones

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Noted art collector Paul R. Jones, a native of Bessemer, Ala., who built one of the largest collections of 20th Century African-American art – now the Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art at The University of Alabama – died Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2010 in Atlanta after a brief illness. He was 81.

Dr. Robert Olin, dean of the UA College of Arts and Sciences, said the University is deeply saddened by the death of Jones, who had lived in Atlanta for several decades.

“It has been an honor and privilege to be a friend to such a brilliant and distinguished gentleman,” Olin said. “Paul’s vision and plans on how his collection should elevate and educate the students and citizens of the state of Alabama are inspiring. We have lost a great leader but his legacy will last forever and he will be fondly remembered every time a pair of eyes looks at a piece in the Paul Jones Collection.”

Jones was raised in the Muscoda Mining Camp of the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company of U.S. Steel Corp. in Bessemer, with his four sisters. He attended Alabama State University on scholarships and graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C. Jones received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from The University of Alabama in 2006.

Paul R. Jones

Paul R. Jones

He distinguished himself as an executive of the Birmingham Interracial Committee of the Jefferson County Coordinating Council for Social Forces and in a 15-year career with the federal government. He worked at the U.S. Department of Commerce and Justice’s Community Relations Service, earned a national reputation for his work in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Model Cities Program, and served as deputy director of the Peace Corps in Thailand.

Jones was a well-known Atlanta resident and civil rights activist, and was in charge of President Nixon’s national get-out-the-black-vote campaign in 1972. He received the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change Outstanding Community Service Award, three meritorious awards from the Southern Conference of Black Mayors, the James van der Zee Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts, and an honorary degree from the University of Delaware.

Jones began collecting art in the 1960s and was soon drawn to African-American art after noticing it was vastly underrepresented in public galleries.

The Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art, which includes some 1,700 pieces of art and is valued at $5 million, was donated to UA in October 2008 by Jones, who Art & Antiques magazine recognized as being “one of the top art collectors in the country.”

The collection includes the works of well-known artists such as Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, James Van Der Zee and Carrie Mae Weems.   As Jones wished, it is being used at UA as a teaching collection and will be exhibited in galleries on the UA campus and at other educational institutions and venues.

For more information on Jones’ gift, visit

Mr. Jones is survived by his son P.R. Jones of California and his great niece and nephew Donna Northington and David Jones of Atlanta.

Murray Brothers Funeral Home of Atlanta is in charge of arrangements and the funeral service will be held at Cascade United Methodist Church, 3144 Cascade Road SW, in Atlanta at a date and time yet to be determined.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.

  • CONTACT: Angie Estes, Communications Specialist, College of Arts and Sciences 205/348-8539,