One of San Francisco's longest-serving LGBTQ activists, Ken Jones, lost his battle with bladder cancer this week. He died Wednesday at the age of 70, and his local community of friends is mourning the loss.
A Vietnam War veteran who settled in San Francisco in 1970 after being assigned to Treasure Island, Jones went on to join the early LGTBQ rights activism spearheaded by Harvey Milk and others in the Castro neighborhood.
"In the 1970s before The Internet, ironing board tables at Hibernia Beach [the corner of 18th and Castro where Bank of America now stands] were our community organizing headquarters," Jones wrote in a biography, per the Bay Area Reporter. He would later do work for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and he became the first African American chair of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee board, working with the Pride organization through the 1980s.
After his HIV diagnosis, Jones recalled that he moved to Ocean Beach and spent "a DECADE preparing to die with dignity," only realizing "slowly, very slowly" that he "might not be dying after all."
Jones was portrayed in the 2017 ABC miniseries When We Rise — which was based on the memoir of the same name by local activist Cleve Jones — by actor Michael K. Williams, and the series described the racism that Jones faced as one of few out and proud African American gay men working among mostly white activists.
In an interview with local station ABC 7 at the time the miniseries was airing, Ken Jones spoke of the need to retell the stories of early LGBTQ struggles. "I often say, it's like work in a garden, it's never done," he said. "Every generation needs to hear the story again and again about just how absolutely horrible things were for us."
Later in his career, Jones joined the citizen review board for the BART Police Department beginning in 2009, not long after the BART police killing of Oscar Grant.
"Ken Jones was a hero," his longtime friend Cleve Jones writes in a Facebook post. "He survived many struggles. He deeply loved his family and his community, and dedicated his entire life to the movement for peace and justice. He was very grateful to all of you who reached out to him with messages of encouragement and love during his illness."
Ken Jones was a hero. He survived many struggles. He deeply loved his family and his community, and dedicated his entire...Posted by Cleve Jones on Wednesday, January 13, 2021
Jones is survived by a sister, LaSandra Henderson, and a caregiver who says he helped raise her, Sanjai Moses.
As Moses tells the BAR, "It's going to take a lot of time for our community to adjust to Ken not being here anymore."
Photo via KenJonesSF.com