FW: ANB - Bio of the Day [Bob Jones]
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American National Biography Online
Jones, Bob (30 Oct. 1883-16 Jan. 1968), Protestant evangelist
and college founder, was born Robert Reynolds Davis Jones in
Skipperville, Alabama, the son of William Alexander Jones and
Georgia Creel, peanut farmers. Jones, the eleventh of twelve
children, grew up in the Reconstruction South, working hard on
the family farm that barely supported the large family. He was
named after his father's Civil War comrade Robert Reynolds and
southern hero Jefferson Davis, though his parents dropped the
second middle name "Davis" when he was very young.
Exhibiting excellent speaking ability at an early age, Jones
was memorizing lengthy pieces of poetry and prose at age five
and reciting them to family supper guests. By the age of twelve
he had traveled throughout his county and preached in homes,
schoolhouses, rural churches, and outdoor settings. His first
recorded public speech was in defense of the Populist party.
His first revival was held at the Mount Olive Methodist Church
in Brannon's Stand, Alabama, where he had been elected Sunday
school superintendent at age twelve. He recorded sixty conversions
during the one-week meeting. Known locally as the "boy preacher,"
he had a commanding presence, not only because of his speaking
ability but because of his physical presence. At age thirteen
he was rotund and weighed 150 pounds.
At age fifteen, having founded his first church of fifty-four
members two years earlier, Jones was licensed to preach by the
Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The next year he became a
circuit rider and served five churches on the Headland circuit
of the Mariana district of the Alabama Conference of the Methodist
church. During his first few years as a circuit preacher more
than 400 people made confessions of faith in response to his
preaching. His reputation as a preacher and evangelist began
to spread, and by the age of sixteen he was preaching all over
Jones's mother died when he was fourteen, his father when he
was seventeen. In 1901, having received his high school diploma
from Kinsey High School in 1899, he enrolled in Southern University
in Greensboro, Alabama (now Birmingham Southern University).
He supported himself on funds he earned as pastor of a few small
country churches and as an occasional revivalist preacher. He
was a diligent but average student, much of his time being dedicated
to weekend revival meetings during the school year and week-long
campaigns in the summers. He completed three years of coursework
but never received a bachelor's degree (the often given title
"Dr." is the result of several honorary doctorates given to Jones
throughout his career). He married Bernice Sheffield, a student
at nearby Judson College in Marion, Alabama, in October 1905.
Ten months later she died of tuberculosis; they had no children.
From 1905 through the mid-1920s Jones traveled the nation and
the globe as a full-time evangelist. On one of his evangelistic
tours in Uniontown, Alabama, he met his second wife, Mary Gaston
Stollenwerck. They were married in June 1908 and moved to Birmingham,
Alabama; they had one son. As Jones preached he received increased
notoriety, and by 1914 he had preached all over the southern
states and was known as the "Billy Sunday of the South." Jones
conducted his evangelistic campaigns in churches, outdoor canvas
tents, and specially constructed tabernacles, often preaching
to crowds as large as 15,000. His frequent citywide campaigns
sparked extensive newspaper coverage, and as his name began to
spread invitations came in from all over the United States.
Jones's message was not only one of the need for personal conversion.
He also preached against social ills, such as liquor consumption,
gambling, dancing, Hollywood movies, and casual mixing of the
sexes. As a fundamentalist, he opposed modernism in all its forms.
He opposed teaching evolution in the public schools and rejected
Protestant liberalism with its acceptance of biblical higher
criticism. Later in his career, he would oppose popular evangelist
Billy Graham (who had attended Bob Jones College for one year)
because he cooperated with liberal Protestants in his evangelistic
campaigns. Politically, he was a friend of William Jennings Bryan,
a Democrat. He did, however, oppose Roman Catholic Alfred E.
Smith, the Democratic presidential nominee in 1928, and delivered
more than 100 public speeches for Smith's Republican opponent, Herbert
By the time Jones was forty years old, he had preached in hundreds
of cities throughout thirty states and several foreign countries.
In his first twenty-five years of ministry, he had preached more
than 12,000 sermons to crowds exceeding 15 million total and
witnessed over 300,000 conversions to the Christian faith. He
was a convincing preacher because of his speaking style. He spoke
directly and simply, communicating a practical gospel message
with animation and clarity. Although he is mostly known for his
evangelistic crusades, he also maintained a ministry to Christian
lay people and pastors by speaking at the nation's leading Bible
conferences, such as the Winona Lake Bible Conference. Because
of his popularity and his cultural influence, he was, except
for Billy Sunday, the most significant American evangelist in
the period between Dwight Moody and Billy Graham.
During the early decades of the twentieth century, many fundamentalists
sensed a secularizing trend in higher education. During his travels
Jones heard scores of stories from parents about young people
who had left home to attend a college or university and returned
with their faith shattered and their morals corrupted. Sensing
an "atheistic drift" in America's institutions of higher learning,
he decided to open a Christian college that would protect youth
from the scourge of modernism. The school would provide an education
in "the arts and sciences, giving special emphasis to the Christian
religion and the ethics revealed in the Holy Scriptures."
He founded Bob Jones College in St. Andrews, Florida, in 1926,
and students began taking classes in the fall of 1927. Because
of financial pressures brought on by the Great Depression as
well as the need for a more central location, Jones moved the
school to Cleveland, Tennessee, in 1933 (now the site of Lee
College, denominational school of the Church of God, Cleveland).
In 1947, needing more land and facilities, he again moved the
school, now Bob Jones University (BJU), to its present location
in Greenville, South Carolina. In addition to running and promoting
the university, he continued to preach at evangelistic crusades
and Bible camps. He remained president of BJU until 1964, but
by the mid-1950s his son, Bob Jones, Jr., had taken over much
of the school's internal management.
Because Jones desired to protect Christian students from rampant
secularism, he refused to take any government money or to submit
his school to the official accreditation process. To this day,
Bob Jones University remains an unaccredited institution. In
addition to his rejection of governmental intrusion, Jones is
also known for his affirmation of racial segregation on biblical
grounds. By official policy Bob Jones University remained racially
segregated until 1971, when Bob Jones III became president; and
interracial dating was forbidden until 1983, when the Supreme
Court forced the school to change its rules (Bob Jones University
v. the United States).
Throughout its existence Bob Jones University has prepared students
for a life of Christian ministry. Although many who attend the
school plan to become pastors or evangelists, the university
also offers a wide variety of majors in the arts, the sciences,
and business. Bob Jones University, the nation's premier fundamentalist
institution of higher learning, has fostered a commitment to
the arts, maintaining an impressive art collection, sponsoring
an artist series, and developing excellent drama and music programs.
Jones died in Greenville.
Jones's papers and other archival materials are in Bob Jones
University, Greenville, S.C. Books written by him include Comments
on the Here and Hereafter (1942) and Things I Have Learned: Chapel
Talks at Bob Jones College (1944). For a complete biography with
extensive information on his evangelistic campaigns, see R. K.
Johnson, Builder of Bridges: A Biography of Dr. Bob Jones, Sr.
(1982). For a general sketch of his life with more details regarding
his role in founding and running Bob Jones University, see Melton
Wright, Fortress Of Faith: The Story of Bob Jones University,
3d ed. (1984); this is an institutional history that also includes
extensive biographical information on Jones, Bob Jones, Jr.,
and Bob Jones III. The works of Johnson and Wright are both in-house
histories; hence, they are partisan in nature and largely uncritical
of Jones and the university. They do, however, provide the basic
historical details. For general information on North American
Protestant fundamentalism, see Nancy T. Ammerman, "North American
Protestant Fundamentalism," in Fundamentalisms Observed, ed.
Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby (1991). For a more lengthy
and detailed account of fundamentalism and its role in American
culture, see George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture:
The Shaping of Twentieth-century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925 (1980).
For a more popular account, see Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism
and Evangelicalism (1991).
Kurt W. Peterson
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Kurt W. Peterson. "Jones, Bob";
American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
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