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Category 2: Long-form, internationally famous
Howard O. Jones
Howard O. Jones, the first black associate evangelist of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), traveled the world with Graham and handled much of the groundwork for the legendary evangelist’s African crusade in 1960.
Howard was the principal speaker for BGEA’s “Hour of Freedom” radio broadcast for 35 years and became the first African American to be inducted into the National Religious Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1995.
He began his ministerial career with a heart for the African mission field and his likeminded wife, Wanda, at his side.
When the pair graduated in 1944 from what is now Nyack College, a Christian and Missionary Alliance school in Nyack, N.Y., foreign mission fields were the nearly exclusive domain of white missionaries.
The Joneses’ door to ministering in Africa opened in the late 1950s courtesy of ELWA (Eternal Love Winning Africa), a Christian radio station in Monrovia, Liberia, which played Howard’s taped sermons with music by the Smoot Memorial Alliance Church choir in Cleveland, where Howard served as pastor.
The response from listeners across Africa, who had never heard the voice of “an American Negro” before, prompted ELWA to invite Howard to preach to the people in person at evangelistic meetings in Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria in 1957.
Howard and Wanda “were both so excited after being in this foreign country — a country founded by freed American slaves,” said daughter Gail. Crowds of Africans greeted them with banners of “Welcome to the Fatherland.”
Shortly after the Joneses returned home, they got another thrill. Billy Graham, the most recognizable evangelist of the day, asked Howard to help him reach out to black churches and break down racial barriers at his New York crusade.
Howard, who died November 14, 2010, at age 89, grew up in Cleveland and Oberlin with friends of different races and cultures.
He was born April 12, 1921, in Cleveland and spent his early years in an integrated, middle-class neighborhood, a few blocks south of what is now the Cleveland Clinic campus.
His father made his living as a plasterer. His mother worked as a housekeeper before opening a beauty shop. They taught Howard and his younger brother, Clarence, the importance of getting an education and being proud of their heritage.
Their dad also encouraged them to make music.
At a young age, Howard played clarinet and Clarence blew the trumpet in the East Mount Zion Baptist Church orchestra in Cleveland and accepted invitations to play duets at other churches.
As teenagers, they moved with their parents to Oberlin, where their grandmother lived. Howard joined the Oberlin High School band and later played alto sax in a local jazz band that entertained white and black audiences at dances, parties and nightclubs in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
He gave up his career as a jazz musician after accepting Jesus Christ as his savior at the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CM&A) church in Oberlin led by a white female minister. He soon felt the call to preach and enrolled with his girlfriend, Wanda Young, at Nyack Training Institute, which boasted only 12 blacks in a student body of 600.
Thwarted in their attempts to enter the mission field in Africa because of their race, Howard became pastor of Bethany Chapel, a newly formed CM&A church in Harlem. In the late 1940s and early ’50s, he started an interdenominational, interracial youth ministry, began hosting a radio broadcast and launched a Christian camp that was open to all races.
Years later, he would start the Christian Family Outreach Camp near Rock Creek, Ohio, with his family.
Howard headed a Harlem branch of the New York Bible Society, which distributed Bibles to churches, hospitals and jails in Harlem, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens.
In 1952, Howard became pastor of Smoot Church in Cleveland, started a radio ministry and moved his family into their new home in the tiny village of Woodmere.
Howard served with the Graham crusade team from 1958 until retiring in 1993, but remained involved until 2001.
“Howard Jones was a very gracious Christian gentleman,” said Cathy Wood of BGEA. “When he got behind the pulpit, he boldly proclaimed the gospel. He was truly called to be an evangelist. His ministry was not to any particular ethnic group, but his ministry was to all. And it was the message of the gospel. Calling people to Jesus Christ. That was his focus.”
From 1959 to 1964, Howard lived and ministered in Liberia.
His solo crusade in the Congo in 1962 attracted 40,000 people. His weeklong Harlem rally at the Apollo Theater in 1966 drew more than 12,000.
His five children — Cheryl, Gail, Phyllis, David and Lisa — who could hear him praying in the wee hours of the morning, saw him as a visionary, uncompromising in his beliefs and stands.
His wife died November 8, 2001.
Seven months later, Howard went to Cincinnati to visit with Graham before his crusade there.
“We laughed together and reminisced about all the great history we shared,” Howard said in his book. “He told me his earthly frame was getting weaker. ‘Howard, I’m looking forward to heaven,’ he said. He knew I could relate.”