Johnnie Jones, D-day survivor and pioneering civil rights lawyer, dies at 102

World War II veteran Johnnie Jones at his home in 2019.
World War II veteran Johnnie Jones at his home in Baton Rouge, La., in 2019.
(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)

Johnnie A. Jones Sr., a Louisiana civil rights attorney and World War II veteran who was wounded during the D-day invasion of Normandy, France, has died at 102.

Jones died Saturday at the Louisiana War Veterans’ Home in Jackson, La., Jones’ goddaughter, Mada McDonald, told WAFB-TV.

Jones was born Nov. 30, 1919, in Laurel Hill, La., and raised on the Rosemound Plantation by his parents, who farmed 73 acres of land but insisted that their son get an education. He graduated from Southern University and then was drafted in 1942. He became the Army’s first Black American warrant officer. He was assigned to a unit responsible for unloading equipment and supplies onto Normandy.


During the June 6, 1944, invasion — as Jones came ashore on Omaha Beach — he came under fire from a German sniper. Jones grabbed his weapon and returned fire, a memory that haunted him all his life.

“I still see him, I see him every night,” Jones told the Associated Press in a 2019 interview.

Jones almost didn’t made it to the beachhead that day. His ship hit a mine, and he was blown from the second deck to the first. The explosion “blew me sky high into the air,” Jones said in a Department of Veterans Affairs interview. Later, Jones got hit with shrapnel before he hit the ground during a bomb attack.

By the end of World War II, more than a million Black Americans were in uniform, including the famed Tuskegee Airmen and the 761st Tank Battalion. But they returned from the war only to encounter discrimination and racial intolerance back home.

Jones said that after returning to the U.S. from Europe, he had to move to the back of a bus filled with fellow soldiers as it crossed the Mason-Dixon line separating North from South.

“I couldn’t sit with the soldiers I had been on the battlefield with. I had to go to the back of the bus,” he said.


Not long after, while traveling to New Orleans to get shrapnel removed from his neck, Jones said he was pulled over by a white police officer and beaten for no reason, other than the color of his skin.

Such events served as a call to action, to fight racism. He obtained a law degree and was recruited in 1953 to help organize a bus boycott in Baton Rouge, La., and defend the participants. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. used that event to plan his larger bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., a few years later.

Jones also defended students arrested during sit-ins as civil rights protests gained momentum in the South. His car was bombed twice.

He served as a state legislator in Louisiana from 1972 to 1976. He continued to practice law until he was 93.

The French government in 2020 presented Jones with the Legion of Honor award for his World War II service.

It took 77 years for Jones’ sacrifice and courage during World War II to finally be recognized in his own country. In 2021 — at age 101 — he finally received his Purple Heart, which is awarded to U.S. service members killed or wounded in action.