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 some 1,700 pieces valued at $5 million in 2008.
Despite humble beginnings in Alabama and never independently wealthy, Jones began buying pieces in the 1960s after noting African-American art was underrepresented in public galleries.
As the drawings, paintings, photographs, sculptures and other works grew into the hundreds, 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 it discovered he was Black.
Born in Bessemer, Ala., in the central part of the state, he 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, D.C.
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 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 Web site 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."