I first met Jon Da’Voe in a study room within the Alabama State University library. We were among the first to arrive at a meeting for activists and advocates seeking to make improvements to the City of Montgomery’s public transportation system.
Working on public transportation policy issues was one of my favorite parts of being a policy analyst for an anti-poverty grassroots advocacy nonprofit. Talking about Montgomery buses not only leveraged the legacy of Rosa Parks, but it also intersected with all of the other issues in the lives of public transit riders — people who often need the bus to get to health care, legal assistance, the grocery store, and just generally not be isolated from fellow human beings in a car-centric world.
At this meeting at ASU, I sat down across from Jon Da’Voe (whose real name I’d learn later actually was Devore Jones) and I introduced myself. We exchanged business cards, and he immediately launched into giving me unsolicited advice about how to get media attention for rallies and public events.
“What you’ve got to do, see, is put a big long subject line in there, and then you tell them about the event you’re wanting to publicize and then each time you have new information about the event, you send them another email, noting the time of day so that they know which version is the most current one.”
I remember furrowing my brow, but wanting to be polite. As a former journalist, I knew that this was terrible, terrible advice.
“Oh, and you should also copy as many people as you can. And important people too! That way the media can see that you sent a copy of that email to the Governor and stuff…”
I thought this was quirky and somewhat charming, and not entirely atypical of the kinds of experiences I’d had working with public transit riders. They were generally an idiosyncratic lot, difficult to organize — in part because they were always late to things due to inadequacies in the public transit system. They were often unemployed or underemployed and had a variety of health problems and disabilities, but as I began to see Jon Da’Voe at a number of similar meetings and rallies, he really stood out as someone who was organized and extremely passionate about being heard. He really wanted to make his community a better place.
Then I started getting his emails.
I didn’t know that when I gave him my business card, that I’d be added to Jon’s list of “important people” that he would email at all hours of the day. The emails would frequently show up in batches, sometimes as many as 10 or 15 of them, each in the group nearly identical except for a few minor changes, each noted with a timestamp, just as he’d advised.
On Sept. 9, 2014, I got an email from Jon titled “Fw: Internationally Admired and respected Recording Artists The Honorable Jon Da’Voe will minister in song and serve as a guest Soloist with the Mighty Men of Valor Men’s Choir at the Historic Dexter Avenue King Memorial Missionary Baptist Church (The His.”
Yeah, it just ended like that. His subject lines would frequently terminate due to space constraints.
At the top of this email it said:
Corrected Copy/Most Current Copy # 10 This copy supersedes all other copies dated prior to it to include the copy dated Sunday 10 August 2014 @ 10:39 PM & Monday 11 August 2014 @ 4:25 AM, 6:17 AM, 3:45 PM & 4:11 PM, Thursday 14 August 2014 @ 8:28 PM, Monday 18 August 2014 @ 7:16 AM, 9:25 PM& 10:23 PM
To be clear, he was sending out the same email, sometimes dozens of times. It was clear he was sitting in front of these emails, sometimes for hours, noticing “errors” or opportunities for “improvement,” and then sending the slightly-amended thing to the same list. I considered unsubscribing, but I had never received a “press release” like this before, and I was fascinated. It began:
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT/PUBLIC NOTICE/PRESS RELEASE
TO: To whom it may concern
FROM: Jon Da’Voe formerly Devore Jones is a former candidate for the City Council of the City of Montgomery, AL, a former candidate for the City Council of Prattville, AL, a former candidate for Mayor of Prattville, AL and the 1st Black/American African from the West African nation of Benin and Native American of the Cherokee and Seminole Tribes to run for Mayor of the City of Prattville, AL in over 40 years. Additionally, Jon Da’Voe is a Recording Artists & Minister (Retired/Emeritus), an Optimist and the Executive Director, Event Coordinator & Founder of The American Foundation for Voters Education and Registration, INC., Mr. Jon Da’Voe, Senior President, Jon Davoe Ministries INC. formerly Devore M. Jones Ministries, INC., Mr. Jon Da’Voe Senior Pastor (Retired/Emeritus), & Founder and Executive Director Emeritus, The Single Adults Support & Recreation Center Multi-Purpose and Multi-Cultural Fine Arts Center, In Historic Downtown Prattville, AL, The First Little House Advertising Agency & The First Little House Agency, President, CEO, Executive Director, Chairman & General Manager, The Grand & The Great Mufti (Mufti means an interpreter of Islamic Spiritual Laws in the Arabic Language) & Emam/Imam (Emam/Imam means Spiritual Leader in the Arabic Language), His Eminence The Grand & The Great Ayatollah (the word Ayatollah is a high-ranking title given to Islamic clerics. Those who carry the title are experts in Islamic studies such as jurisprudence, ethics, morals, and philosophy and usually teach in Islamic seminaries) of American Africa/ American Africans/African Americans & Native Americans and American Natives of the Cherokee & Seminole Tribes of the United States of America (Retired/Emeritus), The Elder Bishop, The Chief Rabbi (Rabbi means Spiritual Teacher in the Hebrew Langauge) of American Africa/ American Africans/African Americans & Native Americans and American Natives of the Cherokee & Seminole Tribes of the United States of America (Retired/Emeritus), Chaplain, Patriarch, The Grand & the Great Worshipful Master (F&AM) (Retired/Emeritus with over 24 years of honorable service.) Dr. “Praise & Worship” Great Great Uncle “Walking” Jon Da’Voe”, His Imperial Highness, His Royal Highness, His Serene Highness, His Serene Excellency, His Serene Holiness, (I bear all other titles of equal stature past, present and future as well. As did those in my family who came and were born before me.) The Institution & the organization of The Ancient of Days, The Executive Director of the Single Adults Support & Recreation Center Multi-Purpose and Multi-Cultural Fine Arts Center in Prattville, AL,& a Veteran of the United States Military & the 2011 – 2014 Event Coordinator for the Autauga County and Prattville Wide Annual Observance of World AIDS and HIV, Responsible Sex, Health, Wellness and Fitness Awareness Day Program, located @ 914 South Union St., Montgomery, AL 36104 Inc. L.L.C.
This particular press release was about how Jon was going to “minister in song and serve as a guest Soloist with the Mighty Men of Valor Men’s Choir at the Historic Dexter Avenue King Memorial Missionary Baptist Church.”
Not including the lengthy “legal disclaimer” at the bottom of the email (“The contents of this email are the property of The Honorable Jon Da’Voe Enterprises Inc. LLC. and Corporation. If it was not addressed to you, you have no legal right to read it.”), the email announcing the Jon Da’Voe was going to sing a song was over 6,000 words long.
Of course I forwarded it to my wife, and we joked about all of the various titles (which he bears in past, present and future), and I deleted these emails and just kept living. Because Jon was sending this individually to people he met (or had somehow acquired the business cards of), there was no “unsubscribe” button. If I wanted out of this torrent of emails, I’d have to write to him directly. And I thought it might hurt his feelings. He was an incredibly nice and extremely earnest man.
Subsequent emails seemed to indicate that Jon might be gay. He was very concerned about gay rights, and one said that “Jon Da’Voe is a Globally, Worldwide and Internationally admired and respected Inspirational Song and Poem Writer, Recording Artists, & Motivational, Inspirational & Words of Encouragement Public Speaker, Advisor, Counselor and Consultant as well as an Internationally admired and respected Human, Civil, Same-Sex, Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgendered (LGBT), United States Constitutional, God-Given Rights, Social & Peace Activist & Leader, Businessman and an Internationally admired and respected Inspirational Recording Artist and Song & Poem Writer.”
Jon liked capitalizing the first letter of a thing. He knew at his core that words have power. He also said that he served 10-plus years in the military, although I don’t know much else about his service. He was living the Patterson Court projects (near Alabama State) for a while, but then moved to Prattville at some point.
A number of his emails for a while were about how he was being prevented from buying and installing a freezer for his public housing unit. He went into great detail about how the unfair housing authority rules about standalone freezers made it difficult for him to procure and store sufficient quantities of food. He made some good points. People who don’t have a car can’t just scoot to the store whenever they need to stock up.
The months went by.
Subject: Fwd: I Walking Jon Da’Voe feel that it is just downright disrespectful of the people that live and work in City Council District 4 and at Maxwell Air Force Base which is the largest employer in the River Region and which is Represented by City Councilman David Burkette for the City of Montgomery, AL to be getting two new Wal-Mart’s one near the Bonnie Crest Country Club on Federal Drive and the other one near the Halcyon neighborhood next to Festival Plaza Shopping Center on the corner of Vaughn and Taylor Rd. and neither one of them is in Councilman David Burkette’s City Council District 4. Corrected Copy # 2
The emails were directed to me, an email address at the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, the head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the events planner at a local university, the Governor of Alabama, a number of employees at the Hilton chain of hotels, and who knows who else. Some emails went to five people, some may have gone to 50 or 100 email addresses.
I’m still not sure why Jon thought the Rainbow Push Coalition needed to know about the construction of a new Wal-Mart in Montgomery, but I enjoyed imagining other people reading Jon’s emails with the same amusement that I did. Or maybe they just blocked and deleted them.
In addition to the local TV station, folks from FEMA and the U.S. Air Force and I got an email from Jon on Oct. 28, 2015:
Subject: Fwd: Cosmic rays to unravel Egypt’s secrets: Advanced imaging may discover Queen Nefertiti’s tomb and finally reveal how the pyramids of Giza were built. Some people believe that the Pyramids of Giza were built by using a process of Levitation and Telepathy to raise or lift and lay the stones into place Corrected Copy/Most Current Copy # 3
The email was built around an article from The Daily Mail about scans of the pyramids, but Jon had supplemented this info with his own research about the Suez Canal and various facts about Egyptian politics.
I continued to see Jon around town, and he’d always come over to me and speak. He was glad to have the audience, especially if I had on a suit and tie, and even more so once I mentioned that I’m an attorney. His emails got longer and more complicated. In January of 2016, his list of honorifics and titles had grown to 900 words long:
FROM: Internationally and locally admired and respected Inspirational Recording Artists, Song and Poem Writer and Motivational and Inspirational Public Speaker, American African, African, Native American, Civil Rights and Human Rights Lay Historian, The Spiritual Grandson of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Spiritual Son of Dr. Thomas E. Jordan, His Majesty His Excellency Tribal Chair/CEO Devore The Honorable Professor Rev. Dr. “Walking Jon Da’Voe” Jones, The Ancient of Days, Son of Amun, Amon Amen and Mut of Ancient, Modern and Current American Africa, African America & Africa, King and President and Chief of Upper, Middle and Lower American Africa, African America and Africa, Former Montgomery, AL Mayoral Candidate, 2015, Former Prattville, AL Mayoral Candidate, 2012, & the 1st American African to run for Mayor of Prattville, AL in over 40 years, Former Prattville, AL City Council Candidate, 2008, Former Montgomery, AL City Council Candidate, 1999, An Advisor, Family Member and Friend to many people on all levels and from all walks of life in Religion, Politics and Business, His Majesty His Excellency Jon Da’Voe, Tribal Chair/CEO, of American Africans and of the Cherokee and Seminole Native American Tribes of the United States of America, The Grand and the Great Civil, Human, Same Sex, Constitutional& God-Given Rights Activist, Historian, Emam/Imam Mufti Caliph Elder Bishop & Patriarch of American Africans and of the Cherokee and Seminole Native American Tribes of the United States of America and all of the United States of America Chief Rabbi of American Africans and of the Cherokee and Seminole Native American Tribes of the United States of America and all of the United States of America Chaplain Worshipful Master Emperor Caesar/Czar/Kaiser Khan/Kagan Pharaoh Sheikh High Priest and King Sultan Emir and President of American Africans and of the Cherokee and Seminole Native American Tribes of the United States of America and all of the United States of America, His Imperial and Royal Highness (HIH) (HRH) His Majesty (HM) His Holiness (HH) His Excellency (HE) The Honorable Dr. Devore “Walking Jon Da’Voe” Jones (I bear all other Honorable Titles of equal stature past, present and future as did those who came before me) (Retired Emeritus with over 25 years of Honorable Service), His Majesty His Excellency Tribal Chair/CEO Devore The Honorable Dr. “Walking Jon Da’Voe” Jones , of American Africans and of the Cherokee and Seminole Native American Tribes of the United States of America. His Majesty His Excellency Tribal Chair/CEO Devore The Honorable Dr. “Walking Jon Da’Voe” Jones , of American Africans and of the Cherokee and Seminole Native American Tribes of the United States of America is the Spiritual Grandson of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Spiritual Son in the Ministry of Dr. Thomas E. Jordan, the Senior Pastor of the Lilly Missionary Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL and the biological Grandson and Great Grandson of Ministers. Dr. Thomas E. Jordan, the Senior Pastor of the Lilly Missionary Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL, is the Spiritual son of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the only Senior Pastor in the Universe that can say that he was baptized and ordained by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was the Senior Pastor of Dexter Avenue Missionary Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL. (Rev. Dr. Cromwell Handy is the current Pastor in succession from Pastor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rev. Dr. Vernon Johns of Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL. Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL is the only church in the Universe where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., served as Senior Pastor and is one of only three Predominantly American African Churches in the United States of America where activist planned demonstrations during the Civil Rights Movement to be nominated for The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site designation.) and His Majesty His Excellency Tribal Chair/CEO Devore The Honorable Dr. “Walking Jon Da’Voe” Jones is also a Lay and Oral History Historian meaning that a lot of the information that His Majesty His Excellency Tribal Chair/CEO Devore The Honorable Dr. “Walking Jon Da’Voe” Jones has received has been passed along to him from one generation to the next orally or by word of mouth by those who actually experienced the events and were actually there at the time of the events. His Majesty His Excellency Tribal Chair/CEO Devore The Honorable Dr. “Walking Jon Da’Voe” Jones is an Internationally/Worldwide, Nationally and locally admired and respected Recording Artist, Song Writer, Motivational, Inspirational and Public, Speaker, Advisor, Counselor and Consultant in his own right Retired/Emeritus with over 25 years of Honorable Service, Jon Da’Voe is the Founder, 1st President, 1st Chief Executive Officer (CEO), 1st Executive Director & Executive Director Emeritus of the First Little House Single Adults Support and Recreation Center Multi-Purpose and Multi-Cultural Fine Arts Center in Prattville, AL from 2006-2014, Internationally admired and respected Inspirational and Motivational Recording Artists and Public Speaker & a Veteran of the United States Military with over 10 ½ years of Honorable Service, my most important Title of all of my official Titles is that of Great Great Uncle and Chief, Age 47.
Then we learned that Jon was running for Mayor. And that his legal name was Devore Jones.
He did not succeed — but he also was not a complete embarrassment in the debates. I remember him being late to one because of the inadequacies of the city bus system in meeting the needs of people like Jon De’Voe.
In 2018, he launched a write-in campaign for state House of Representatives. A news story from that time explained that he wanted people to write in his full name as Devore “Walking John Da’Voe Malone” Jones.”
I never got to hear Jon De’Voe sing. He was murdered on a Sunday morning in March of 2021. According to the news article about his stabbing, he was currently running for City Council, and the article says he was currently popularly known as “Walking” Jon Da’Voe-Shelby.
I have no idea what would cause someone to want to kill Walking Jon Da’Voe, but every time I interacted with him, he was exceedingly kind and gentle. He was earnest about wanting to make the world a better place, even if it seemed like he would probably benefit from some mental health care. I wonder what his family thinks.
I really hope that his sexual identity didn’t play into his killing, but anything seems possible for someone whose life seemed to be so tenuously balanced. It’s a violent world.
There should be a place in our public life for people like Jon Da’Voe. Many cities have those off-kilter “perennial candidates,” who are always running for something or other. They run the gamut. People like Leslie Cochran and Vermin Supreme and any number of other activist/artist/crank types add real value to the civic stew. Even if they have no shot to win, they show how the system works (or doesn’t work), and sometimes their ideas have merit, even if they are often delivered in a somewhat “bizarre” or “off-putting” manner. It’s good to have people who want to shine a spotlight into the corners that a lot of people prefer to ignore.
Jon knew that identities are fluid. Like David Bowie. And he knew that people who have impressive titles are often in charge of deciding whether his housing project unit was approved for a standalone freezer. So he lavished titles upon himself, and adhered to a rigorous set of protocols around emails. A friend once told me that Jon was a frequent visitor around the halls of power in the Alabama political world, often trying to hand out cookies that he had procured somewhere. He may not have had much to give, but even “Walking” Jon Da’Voe knew that gifts and goodwill are vital to bending the political machine.
It sucks that someone stabbed Jon Da’Voe to death. RIP Devore Jones.