Paul R. Jones, a collector of African American art who donated troves of works to universities in Delaware and Alabama, has died. He was 81.
Jones died in Atlanta on Tuesday after a brief illness, said University of Alabama spokeswoman Angie Estes. The university established an art collection in Jones’ name after receiving about 1,700 pieces valued at $5 million in 2008.
Despite humble beginnings in Alabama and never being independently wealthy, Jones began buying pieces in the 1960s after noting that African American art was underrepresented in public galleries.
Part of his collection was exhibited at the University of Delaware in 1993. He later made a gift of several hundred works to the school.
"My goal has been to incorporate African American art into American art," he told the Tuscaloosa News in 2008, when he made his donation to the University of Alabama with a plan for it to be part of the curriculum.
He embraced the school even though he was turned down by the University of Alabama Law School in 1949 after school officials realized that he was black.
Born in 1928 in Bessemer, Ala., in the central part of the state, Jones was raised in the Muscoda Mining Camp of an iron and steel corporation. Jones attended historically black Alabama State University in Montgomery and finished his education at Howard University in Washington.
Described as a civil rights activist, he worked with an interracial community group in Birmingham, Ala., and held jobs with the federal government for 15 years before becoming deputy director of the Peace Corps based in Thailand.
When his collection of drawings, paintings, photographs, sculptures and other works grew into the hundreds, he decided it should be used for educational purposes.
"I knew I could sell the collection at its appreciated price and get myself a chauffeur, a cook, a maid and travel the world," he was quoted on a University of Delaware website devoted to his collection. "But I realized I wanted to do something with my collection that would have a lasting impact, both in my lifetime and beyond."
Survivors include his son, P.R. Jones.