MEMPHIS, TN — Melvin Jones, publisher of the Memphis Black Business Directory and executive director of the Memphis Business Contracting Consortium died Nov. 15. (Submitted photo)
Melvin Jones, publisher of the Memphis Black Business Directory, executive director of the Memphis Business Contracting Consortium and a fighter in the support of Black businesses, died unexpectedly Sunday, Nov. 15, family members have confirmed.
Jones, 65, who died at Methodist University Hospital, was born in Hayti, Missouri, the youngest of 13 children. He earned a business degree from Lincoln University in Missouri and a law degree from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
After law school, he joined what is now the St. Louis law firm of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, which had a string of high-powered, Fortune 500 company clients, his brother James Jones said.
But for Melvin Jones, the work wasn’t satisfying, James Jones said.
“I talked to Melvin about that when he decided to leave Bryan Cave. He just didn’t feel that the corporate law that he practiced was going to be fulfilling. I don’t know exactly what the issue was. It wasn’t the type of law he wanted to practice. He felt the law firm wasn’t focused on the things that Melvin felt fulfilled him,” James Jones said. “I think he could have become a partner and done very well financially, but that wasn’t what he was looking for.”
Melvin Jones moved first to Louisville where he started a Black business directory and to Memphis in 1989, his wife Sharon Jones’ hometown and a city where he also had family.
Years later, cousin Elaura James-Reid said she asked him about leaving the law.
“He said ‘I wanted to be able to look myself in the mirror and know that I left a better place for my children and my children’s friends. And I didn’t think I could do that practicing law,’” James-Reid recalled.
Melvin Jones, who was a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps, came to Memphis, founded the Black Business Directory and took off from there.
He founded PROUD magazine and the contracting consortium, which worked to advocate for minority participation in government and private sector business opportunities.
“Before there was Black Lives Matter, before any of this you see on social media, Our Black Dollars Matter, before there was a Blackout Friday and Blackout Mondays, before any of that there was Melvin Jones here in Memphis with the Black Business Directory,” said James-Reid, senior pastor of Coleman Chapel C.M.E Church.
Shep Wilbun, Shelby County’s chief supplier diversity officer, served on the County Commission and the Memphis City Council, working with Melvin Jones for more than 20 years.
“Melvin was a person who was perpetually committed – and I do mean perpetually – to insuring Black folk were included in the economics of this community,” Wilbun said.
“From a Black Business Directory where people could access Black businesses and know what they had to offer to challenging the Downtown Memphis Commission and EDGE (Economic Development Growth Engine) to include more minority businesses in their spending to pushing the (Memphis) city council and county commissioners to ensure that governments realized the need to include more minority spending,” he said. “He was involved in all of that.”
Roby Williams, chief relationship officer for the Black Business Association of Memphis, served on the association’s board with Melvin Jones and shared a “vineyard,” as they worked to expand opportunities for Black-owned businesses.
“He tried to get every entity that he could to do business with Black businesses – city government, county government, private businesses,” Williams said.
Jones was a “good and decent man” working in a field that has its frustrations, he said.
“He was a tireless warrior and an intractable worker for minority business enterprises. This was his true north,” Williams said.
Melvin Jones didn’t want to only uplift African Americans, James-Reid said.
“It was people of color,” she said.
Melvin Jones also served as interim publisher of the Tri-State Defender, the city’s historically Black newspaper, and began the Memphis African American Hall of Fame.
He was always community oriented and was active in the 100 Black Men of Memphis.
“He wanted to document and help people make progress in whatever they were doing,” James Jones said. “He was about 8 years younger than I am. He didn’t grow up with me, but he was always interested in what was going on. Always wanted to be involved. Whatever it was, he had that desire and knack.”
Melvin Jones did a lot for Memphis, said Reginald Goodrich, a close friend and cousin by marriage.
“He was a kind, loving person. He cared dearly for his family,” he said. “If anybody needed anything at all, he would do his best to be there for them. He was an all-around great guy, soft spoken. But, when Melvin spoke, everybody listened.”
Wilbun and Melvin Jones were also neighbors. Melvin Jones was a faithful walker through their neighborhood and was always in a hurry, Wilbun said.
“He could be funny. He could be honest to a fault. And he was somebody that Memphis is going to sorely miss because I don’t know that there’s anybody that we have in this community like him right now,” Wilbun said.
In addition to his wife, Melvin Jones is survived by his children, Caleb Jones of Phoenix, Arizona; Joshua Jones of Ann Arbor, Michigan; Rachel Jones of Charlotte, North Carolina and Sarah Jones of Nashville; and surviving siblings Ellinor Perry, James (Foyette) Jones and Enoch (Sterma) Jones, all from Chicago; Clifton (Lennis) Jones of Aurora, Colorado; Eliza Luvert (Andrew) of Sugarland, Texas; Jesse (Mary) Jones from Memphis and Andrew (Elaine) Jones, Renton, Washington.