Stone Mountain Mayor Beverly Jones makes history in city burdened by its past

Stone Mountain Mayor Beverly Jones stands in front of St. Paul A.M.E. Church in the city’s historic Shermantown community. "This is not only a community church, but this is my sister's church that I patronize a lot," Jones said. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Stone Mountain, GA — Dr. Beverly Jones is the first Black woman elected mayor of Stone Mountain.

It’s a city haunted by ghosts of the Ku Klux Klan and overshadowed by a looming granite monument to men who fought to keep people enslaved.

Mayor Jones is quick to note that Stone Mountain Park and the city of Stone Mountain are different. Stone Mountain Park, the most visited attraction in Georgia, is owned by the state. The municipality of Stone Mountain became a city in 1839, and has a population of 6,200 residents according to the 2020 U.S. Census.

“Look, just look,” she said, standing in the Main Street gazebo, pointing at the giant granite rock. “It’s everywhere. It’s part of God’s beauty, but it is owned by the state and we are a city. People have blurred the line.”

This is where her plan to rebrand the city comes into play. Jones said if she had a dime for every time someone asked her how the city could separate from the sordid history of the park, she’d be a billionaire.

“People think I’m the mayor of the mountain,” she laughed. “Sometimes I wonder, who would we be if we didn’t have that park?”

Jones took office in January with typical mayoral goals: to boost economic development, improve the city’s image and ensure residents’ safety. But Jones is far from typical.

Giving up a seat on the Stone Mountain city council, Jones ran for office in 2009 and lost to longstanding mayor, Patricia Wheeler. Votes cast for Jones were found to be spoiled, which she called “disheartening.” It was a hard lesson to learn, she said.

“A lot of times when your opponent loses, they’re very angry. People thought that I was going to be some radical activist. I continued to stay in the town, I continued to be a beacon of light. I didn’t go after the new mayor. That was not my purpose,” Jones said. “I believe in timing and I believe in hard work.”

Jones tried to regain her city council seat. She lost. Running to get her seat back just after losing the mayoral race was confusing to voters, she said.

In 2020, on the brink of the pandemic, she filed to run for the seat of Georgia Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, who was retiring. She lost to Kim Jackson.

“For 10 years, people kept encouraging me to run for mayor. People thought my loyalties should remain in town,” she said.

In 2021, she ran for mayor again and won. Jones has nine lives. She’s whip-smart, empathetic and tenacious. Her laugh is open-mouthed, eyes smiling, all-in, contagious.

Growing up in a military family, Jones lived in Japan, South Dakota, Michigan, Florida and Georgia. She attended five high schools in four years. The first in her family to attend college, it took her years to graduate because of what she calls “a lot of calamities.”

While she was in college, Jones survived a head-on collision during a drive home from church. Her injuries left her hospitalized for 45 days in traction.

“I was in school [for an associate’s degree at Perimeter College and Georgia State University] and I had to withdraw, which was very disturbing to me,” Jones said.

After she recuperated from the accident, she re-enrolled in school to continue pursuing her degree. She got a part-time job at UPS when tragedy struck.

“I was walking across a big parking lot on the UPS property when one of their 18-wheelers ran me over,” Jones said.

Surviving short-term amnesia and multiple head injuries, Jones un-enrolled from school again. Her attorney tried pushing for compensation from UPS to no avail. The attorney was disbarred due to other circumstances, she said. Jones never received compensation from UPS for the incident.

“I had to let the good supersede the bad,” Jones said.

Back in school – and on the Dean’s list – Jones was thrown from a car that flipped over and hit two telephone poles.

“You should never give up, no matter what happens to you or how dire your life might seem. I never gave up,” said Jones. “Going through all of that taught me tolerance. It taught me perseverance. It strengthened my belief in God.”

She finished her degree, graduating from Morris Brown College. Jones has worked in the travel industry, radio and TV, social work and science. She was a gospel DJ at Columbia School of Broadcasting in Atlanta. While working at Emory Winship Cancer Institute in bioinformatics, her colleagues encouraged her to go back to school.

Jones has five degrees: an associate’s degree in marketing and advertising, a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership and management, a master’s degree in Christian counseling, a doctorate in Christian counseling and a Ph.D. in theology.

“I’m the first person in my family to go to college, and now we have 17 attending college and having graduated. A lawyer, broadcaster, producer, one is going to school to be a surgeon, a couple of nurses. I’m just so glad that I started the generational blessing. It took me a long time, but now I see how I paved the way for the others,” she said.

Spending five years of her childhood in Japan, she still speaks a bit of Japanese, but she sounds as Southern as anyone who grew up in Atlanta. Jones has lived in Stone Mountain for more than 20 years.

Years ago, Jones suggested the renaming of Venable Street, named in part for white supremacist and former mayor of Stone Mountain James Venable. The timing wasn’t right for the change. More recently, Stone Mountain resident Vanessia Cummings started a campaign to rename the street. In 2019, Stone Mountain city council voted to change the street to Eva Mamie Lane after Black pillars of the community, Eva Jewell Greene and Mamie Ella Lane.

Black History Month nearly came and went in the city, and Jones wasn’t happy. She quickly assembled a committee to design banners that were installed late last week. Jones wanted a Black history walking tour but said she chose instead to be conscious of taxpayers’ money.

“I am a little disappointed that no one stepped up to the plate and there wasn’t a plan [for Black History Month] already in motion,” she said. “But come next year. Next year it will be something.”

For now, Jones can be found making friends all over Stone Mountain. She visits the library two or three times a week, and walks around the city for exercise. When she’s not people watching at the gazebo on Main Street, she’s probably traveling, praying at church or feeding the hungry.

“If you want to be a leader, you have to show leadership,” she said.

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