The community is in mourning following the death of longtime Richmond activist Lillie Mae Jones.
Jones “began her advocacy and organizing work in the 1970s, getting people involved in community service and neighborhood beautification,” Richmond Mayor Butt stated in an announcement of her passing on Facebook.
Jones’ many decades of advocacy led to a number of well-known city gems. She helped lead the effort to set aside former railroad property to create the Richmond Greenway, a pedestrian and cycling pathway, according to a Black History Month proclamation honoring her in 2010.
She not only advocated for her community for decades, she rarely took a break from it. In 2010, when she was honored with a city proclamation at a council meeting, she seized an offer to deliver a thank you speech by calling for an increase in public safety, according to this Richmond Confidential article.
“I demand that the city reopen the (police) substation in the Iron Triangle,” Jones declared into the microphone that was handed to her, adding.”I want that done right away!”
Jones also helped champion the CYCLE urban farm near the corner of Macdonald Avenue and Sixth Street, which is part of an organization that provides training and mentorship to youth in community gardening and building sustainable neighborhoods.
Her years of great work led to the naming of Lillie Mae Jones Plaza at 120 Macdonald Ave. in her honor. The housing development includes 26 affordable apartments with environmentally sustainable amenities and support services for those living with a disability.
Betty Reid Soskin, the popular Richmond resident who is the nation’s oldest National Park Service ranger, called Jones a “force of nature.”
“Lillie Mae‘s friendship was one that I unashamedly sought when I first came to Richmond, recognizing her as the indigenous leader of her community,” Soskin wrote in a post responding to the mayor’s announcement about Jones’ passing. “She enriched my life as she did so many of our young as she fought valiantly to save them from what she sensed was the doom of a virulent racism that dominated our lives for a very long time in our history-in-common. She gave it her all day after day, and refused to allow anything or anyone to dissuade her from her self-imposed mission. Sleep well, my friend. You’d done your work, and now it’s up to us to see that it wasn’t in vain.”
The mayor shared “sincere thoughts and condolences with Ms. Jones’ family,” as did other city entities, including the Richmond Police Department.
Photo: Posted on Facebook, the image shows Jones with two great grandchildren.