The life of Congressman Ed Jones
Story by Erin Chesnut
Ed Jones (‘32), a 10-term U.S. representative for Tennessee’s 7th and 8th Districts, worked his way through college by showing cattle. He graduated from the University of Tennessee Junior College, UT Martin’s predecessor, in 1932 before pursuing a degree in agriculture from UT’s flagship campus in Knoxville. The Yorkville native later used his love and understanding of the agriculture industry to become the state’s commissioner of agriculture and later support national agricultural and conservation initiatives during 20 years of service in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Now, his granddaughter, Meghan Kinnard Hardee, and her husband, Geoffrey, as well as Meghan’s mother (and Jones’ daughter), Dr. Jennifer Kinnard, and the John Tanner family are working to preserve Jones’ legacy for future generations of researchers, historians and politicians. (Tanner filled Jones’ seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and served from 1989-2011).
“The legacy of Ed Jones is very complex, but it’s also a fantastic example of the American dream,” said Geoffrey. “(He is) the poor son of a sharecropper who works hard and shows cows so he can afford to go to college, who becomes commissioner of agriculture and a U.S. congressman. … He really didn’t care about the power. He and (his wife) Llew, tried hard to avoid Washington (D.C.) life and society. They didn’t go out at night. They went to bed early, and they came home to Yorkville as soon as they could. He only went to Congress to serve the people and the farmers.”
Jones, a Democrat, was elected to represent Tennessee’s 8th Congressional District in 1969 after the death of Robert “Fats” Everett left the seat vacant. He spent the next nine congressional sessions representing the state’s 7th (1973-82) and 8th Districts (1969-72, 83-88) before retiring in 1988.
In his resignation speech, Jones cited wanting to spend more time with his granddaughter, Meghan, as one of his motivating factors for leaving his post as U.S. representative. For this reason and many others, the Hardees hope to honor his life’s work by helping others learn from his accomplishments.
“This isn’t just a sentimental project. We want Grandaddy’s legacy to remain useful to future generations,” said Meghan.
The project includes several phases, including the digitization of records from both Jones and Tanner, the creation of a documentary film about Jones’ life and the publication of a biography written by the Hardees.
The digitization project will make both Jones’ and Tanner’s records available for researchers around the world in order to preserve the legacies of both men and highlight the historical impact of Tennessee’s 8th Congressional District.
UT Martin serves as a central hub for this project, and staff members at the university’s Paul Meek Library will begin digitizing Jones’ extensively archived collection as soon as the necessary equipment has been purchased.
“Last spring, we started counting paper just so we would have a general idea of how large the (Ed Jones) collection is … and there (are) over a million pieces of paper,” said Karen Elmore, senior library assistant in special collections. “When I talk to people and I say, ‘Ed Jones,’ they say, ‘I remember when he was on the radio every Saturday morning,’ or ‘My parents used to get his newsletter.’ So we’ve decided that’s what we’re going to start with, and then hopefully we’ll get into some of the pictures of when constituents went to Washington.”
The documentary film is being produced in part by UT Martin students and alumni under the direction of the Hardees, thus providing valuable real-world experience to budding historians and journalists from Jones’ alma mater.
“We didn’t want this to be a big Hollywood production,” said Geoffrey. “We wanted it to be a local production that ties back to this university, and we wanted to make sure students were involved in that process.”
Ashleigh Burton (‘16), from South Fulton, and Julia Ewoldt, a current student from Savannah, are working with the documentary’s production team, and Georgia Brown (‘17), from Martin, served as a student research assistant for both the book and film projects before her graduation this past spring.
The biography, titled “Grassroots Politickin’ – The Life and Legacy of Ed Jones,” has been accepted for publication through UT Press and will include contributions from well-known names such as former Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist and former President Jimmy Carter, as well as memories and information submitted by Jones’ local friends, family members and constituents.
The biography project, originally thought to be completed this year, has grown as valuable material continues to emerge. While a definite release date is still unknown, Geoffrey is confident the final product will be one Jones himself would be proud of.
“We want to get this project completed as soon as possible, but we also want to take the time to do it right. We are not going to rush this to press at the expense of information that could come to light later, and we have learned so much about the scope of Ed’s influence just in the past few months,” he said. During their research, the Hardees also discovered a collection of color photograph slides taken by Jones during his travels and plan to exhibit those across the state in the coming years.
Jones passed away in December 1999 at the age of 87 and was posthumously inducted into the Tennessee Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2011. Proceeds from the sale of Jones’ biography will benefit UT Martin and the Ed and Llew Jones Legacy Fund, which finances student scholarships and guest speakers, among other initiatives.
The digitization project is funded by gifts from the Hardees, Dr. Jennifer Kinnard and the John Tanner family as well as a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
For more information on the Ed Jones legacy project or to contribute stories to the autobiography, contact Geoffrey Hardee at firstname.lastname@example.org or search “Grassroots Politickin’ – The Life and Legacy of Ed Jones” on Facebook.com.