In Memory of



Obituary for Artemese Jones

“If I can help somebody as I pass along the way, then my living will not have been in vain”. That line from the famous song, was the motto for Artemese Briggs Jones’ life.

Artemese Jones nurtured not only the dreams of her children, and grandchildren, but the lives of many other people. She had a special place in her heart for single parents and others whose differences made them easy targets for judgment, stigmatization and ridicule. She accepted everyone and assured them that nothing could separate them from the love of God!

In the 1970s, Artemese was known as a constructive voice at community forums focusing on the well-being of youths in Norwich. She became a familiar face at the Martin Luther King Center, and at Board of Education meetings, at a time when towns, like Norwich, were striving to develop healthy dialogues to improve race relations.

Mother Jones joined Evans Memorial AMEZ Church in 1974. Her daughters, Sarette and Sarell, had been attending services at Evans with a beloved neighbor, Mrs. Robertsine Duncan for some time. The young girls were delighted that their mother would not be working that evening and would finally see them perform a liturgical dance at Evans. The performance to “Jesus Hear Me Praying” moved her deeply. Mother made Evans her permanent church home that very night! 48 years ago.

Over these many years she would hold a variety of church duties and appointments, including as the director and pianist for both the youth and senior choirs. Mama Jones made the Golden Rule her compass, and she was a star relationship builder. Mother Jones was very mindful of the shadow that she cast, especially for children. She required respect and good manners from the youth choir members, but she also modeled a great sense of humor. Mother recalled a funny story from the early 80s. During one choir rehearsal, her back to the children, Mother was playing an upbeat gospel tune on the piano. Mama Jones heard muffled giggles coming from the large group of children. Out of the corner of her eyes, she could see a young man on the floor-just break dancing with abandon. The children erupted in laughter, expecting the young man to be scolded for his behavior, but Mama Jones, continued to play the piano, and laughing she exclaimed loudly “that’s right baby, break for Jesus”!

Mother Jones relocated to Connecticut from New Orleans, in May of 1965. She was a divorcee, and mother to six children between the ages of 17 years and 11 months. In order of their birth her children are-Delbert Briggs (Mary) of La Place, LA; Mrs. Gwendolyn Cottman (Wilson) of Carneys Point, NJ; and Norwich residents, Henry Briggs; Keith Briggs (Elaine-deceased); Attorney Sarette Williams, and Reverend Sarell Grayson (Rev. Stacy Grayson).

Connecticut represented a fresh start for Artemese. A new beginning. Her baby brother, Joe Louis was stationed in Groton at the naval submarine base. He and his wife, Yvonne, urged her to come. And so she did, , leaving her beloved mother and father, siblings, her beloved church home, a good job and friends-all that she knew. She was determined to write a new story!

Artemese was introduced to Mr. Norman Jones, (known to all as “Papa”) a welder at Electric Boat, by her Groton neighbor, Reverend Elmarease Hicks. When they married in 1969, he proved to be the best stepfather ever! Much to their delight, their blended family would grow to include a number of grandchildren and great grands, and great-greats.

Mother Jones and Papa were married for 42 years when he completed his earthly journey in 2011. In Groton, the couple resided on Hartford Court. There, Artemese also supported youth-centered activities, and organized enriching experiences whenever she could. A 1968 trip to Rhode Island when Mother Jones crowded her old Chevy station wagon with local teenagers for an impromptu trip to the famed Newport Jazz Festival, is fondly remembered. These Hartford Court friendships, which began, almost 60 years ago, survive to this day.

Over the years, Mother Jones and Papa would open their homes to many family members from Louisiana and Pennsylvania who also desired a fresh start in Connecticut. They purchased a house in Norwich in 1971. Papa’s decision to add a second bathroom on the first floor of the house proved to be fortuitous, as it enabled Mother Jones to reside at home comfortably until her death, while receiving the assisted living care she needed.

From 1966 through 1989, Artemese Jones worked at the former Seaside Regional Center, first as an Aide, and eventually as a Supervisor including for the first group home for cognitively disabled adults in Norwich, the Broadway Group Home. Mother Jones was a very active state of Connecticut employee. She served as the Treasurer of the Connecticut State Employees Association (“CSEA”), and served as the President of the local CSEA, Chapter 37 for over 10 years. When Governor Thomas Meskill named her to the State of Connecticut Retirement Commission, in 1973, she became the first Black woman to hold that seat. She was reappointed to the Commission by Connecticut’s first female Governor, Ella T. Grasso, and served for a total of six years. Mother Jones loved being on a first name basis with Governor Grasso, who referred to her affectionately as “Artie”.

Artemese had come an astoundingly long way from rural segregated Covington, Louisiana where she was born on November 19, 1928, during the Great Depression. Her parents, Thomas Henry and Viola Linda Carter Henry would have 10 children. Only five of them would survive infancy. Artemese was the third of the five children that survived. Her siblings, in birth order, were Orelia Silvan, Thomas Henry, Jr; Joyce Lott and Joe Louis Henry. All predeceased her. They were all very close and enjoyed one another’s other’s company whenever they could. During the COVID-19 pandemic, their offspring-the family of nieces and nephews and cousins have stayed connected through monthly Zoom calls, and through Facebook. Ever adaptable to change, Mother Jones’ enjoyed these cyber meeting places. The many worship videos that she sing on with her daughter, Reverend Sarell Grayson, remain as a testament to Mother’s unyielding faith and reliance on the goodness of God.

The fact that she had attended, Jackson State University in Mississippi, for a short time, qualified Mother Jones to substitute teach in the segregated schools and become Covington’s “Colored” librarian for many years. When she moved to Connecticut, though, it was not to Easy Street. She worked as a domestic in private homes until she secured employment that provided her with a living wage. She shared the following account many times: It was 1966, she made a visit to the town of Groton’s Department of Social Services. It was a Wednesday. Her request was for $15.00 to purchase groceries for her and her six children. She represented that she would repay the loan on Friday after she got paid. The social worker pleaded for Mother Jones to enroll for continuing assistance, because as a single mother, with children she qualified. Mother responded that she’d always worked, and that she only needed a little help. They ultimately gave her a food voucher for $45.00, for which there was no responsibility to repay. She never forgot this miracle and kindness manifested at a very vulnerable time in her life.

The proverbial village cared for Mother Jones over the past 7 years. She was very grateful for the respective contributions of her children, and their mutual respect and love for each other, which ensured that she could continue to reside comfortably at home. There were also the phenomenal team of personal care attendants. Those most recently employed are Ms. Vivian Champlain, Ms. Gelora Emmanuel, Reverend Marsha Garrett (her beloved granddaughter), Mrs. Tina Gentry, Reverend Fannie B. Stokes, and Ms. Kathye Wilson. The family also acknowledge Dr. Paul Deutsch and the several other extraordinary physicians who coordinated Mother Jones’ comprehensive care. Thanks is also extended to the Connecticut Community Care, Inc., and the incredible Masonicare Hospice team, as well as, the Lester Gee Funeral Home.

And last, but not least, the family also wants to recognize the extraordinary care that Reverend Sarell Grayson, (in alignment with her husband Reverend Stacy Grayson) coordinated for Mother Jones, ensuring that mother resided in peace and safety in her own home.

Mother Jones is also survived by a beloved step daughter, Wendy Jones Clark of Saint Petersburgh, FL, a god daughter, Elaine Henderson of Newport News, VA, and godson, Brian Beard of Connecticut. She is also survived by a dear first cousin, Rosemary White of Chicago.

During her senior years, Mother Jones remained a very active member of the Evans Memorial family, including as the church Treasurer during the tenure of Pastor Barbara J. White. She also received many District level honors of which she was both humbled and happy to accomplish. Mother served faithfully under many pastors, at Evans Memorial, each of whom she loved dearly. For the past few years, she was the oldest member of her church, and as is tradition, was recognized as the Mother of the Church. Her prayers for her family and friends live on and have power. Well done, Mother Jones.

- Lovingly Submitted by the Family

A celebration of life ceremony will be held at Evans A.M.E. Zion Church, 2 McKinley Avenue, Norwich, CT on Friday, April 8th, 2022 at 11:00am. Visitation will be held from 10:00am to 11:00am. MASKS ARE REQUIRED FOR ENTRY. Interment will immediately follow at Maplewood Cemetery. Streaming will be made available at the time of service, through both the Evans memorial Facebook page and, via the webcasting section of Artemese's obituary page.