Deeper Roots

Deeper Roots: An American Odyssey
"At the very core of Katherine Butler Jones’ captivating memoir is her memory of Harlem, particularly her days at 409 Edgecombe, a historic landmark in a community that Jones recalls so vividly that it’s as if the walls were talking. How wonderful to relive these splendid moments with a superb storyteller."

Herb Boyd
Editor, The Harlem Reader

"Katherine Butler Jones has written a deeply personal story of strong family and community support, a vivid African American story of overcoming obstacles and forging bonds with Africans, and a moving story of civic participation in pursuit of equality and justice for all."

Vivian Johnson, Ed.D.
Associate Professor, Emerita
School of Education, Boston University

Deeper Roots: An American Odyssey takes us on a captivating quest both near and far discovering Katherine Butler Jones’ family ancestry. Her adventures in New York, Jamaica, W.I., Africa and Europe highlight two deep-rooted beliefs—the importance of knowing one’s history and that true learning is often achieved through a connection to the larger world. From the hallways of 409 Edgecombe Avenue in Harlem, her childhood home where her neighbors included future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and social scientist and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, to the halls of academia and the front lines of the civil rights movement, Butler Jones’ life is a timeless journey of curiosity, discovery and enlightenment. As a result of their life experiences and insight, educator, writer, historian and social activist Butler Jones and her husband – social worker and civic organizer Hubey Jones – instilled in each of their eight children a commitment to education, activism and community. Their children continue the quest.

Deeper Roots: An American Odyssey

We are keepers of the dream, the prophets of the future, and the instruments of change.

Dr. Katherine Butler Jones

Katherine Butler Jones arrived in Boston over a half century ago, as a recent graduate of Mount Holyoke College and a young bride eager to begin her career as a teacher in the Boston school department. Hers is a life that began in Harlem as the neighbor of notable African Americans like W.E.B. Du Bois, Walter White and Thurgood Marshall and has taken her, as a writer, educator, historian and social activist, around the world on a timeless journey of curiosity and discovery.

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Awards & Recognition
1973 Elected by the alumnae to Board of Trustees of
Mount Holyoke College
1977 Elected to Newton School Committee citywide
1977 Newton METCO Retirement Dinner
1978 Black Citizens of Newton presents the Katherine Butler Jones scholarship
1980 Massachusetts Mental Health Association honor for Contribution to Community
1985-Present Who's Who Among Black Americans
1986 African Meeting House/City of Boston honor for Betterment of Black Community in Massachusetts
1989 The World's Who's Who of Women
1996 PEN Writer Discovery Award
2003 Recipient of Human Rights Award: City of Newton
2005 Women of Courage and Conviction Award by National Council of Negro Women
2008 Teen Voices Intergeneration Award


Katherine Butler Jones' articles on African American family history have been published in Orion, American Visions and Copia magazines and in the anthology The Harlem Reader (Crown 2003). She was named the New England PEN Writers "Discovery" author in 1996 for non-fiction. And in 2007, her play 409 Edgecombe Avenue: The House on Sugar Hill was produced at The Boston Center for the Arts.

Deeper Roots: An American Odyssey

I am at an age in life when one starts looking back and thinking about the people who made you what you are. In your adult life, you're too busy doing things. No time to reflect. "Deeper Roots" means deeper knowledge. Wanting to know more. It means that you go out and learn about the people who were in your family, about previous generations – I discovered that my maternal DNA is traceable 10,000 years! – and making that historic trip back to your place of origin. I had no idea how deep this was going to go. "Deeper Roots" is the result of my journey of discovery.

The Importance of Land Ownership

The importance of land ownership has been instilled in the Weeks/Butler family for generations, starting as early as 1799 on the Kilbourne side, and 1827 – the year slavery was finally abolished in New York State – on the Weeks side. Land for our family was a sacred thing. It gave them something to hang on to, something not easily taken from them. In 1846, Gerrit Smith, an abolitionist who owned three quarters of a million acres in New York State, granted deeds to 30-40 acre land parcels to what he called "the poorest of the poor and the most deeply wronged class of citizens." Henry Highland Garnet, the minister of the Liberty Street Presbyterian Church, was selected by Smith to assign land to worthy black men. The ownership of this property gave these men the right to vote. My great-great-grandfather, Edward Weeks, was one of the recipients of this land.

A Family History

This timeline traces Kathy's family from the time of her great-great-grandmother Hannah's birth, to the present.

  • 1811 next

    Hannah Diamond born. According to records, Kathy's great-great-grandmother was born a full 11 years before her future husband, Edward Weeks.

  • 1839 next

    Hannah and her mother Diana help establish the first church for African-Americans in Troy, NY

  • 1843 next

    Great-great-grandparents Edward Weeks and Hannah Diamond are married by Bishop Henry Highland Garnet.

  • 1907 next

    Kathy's father, Theodore Butler, delivers speech at YMCA Debating Society in opposition of Booker T. Washington's policy of accommodation.

  • 1920 next

    Kathy's maternal grandmother, Katherine Simpson Clarke, of Jamaica, "from whom my mother inherited her independent spirit. She saw to it that each of her four daughters had a skill and deliberately left property only to her daughters, ensuring that they were self-sufficient and not dependent on a man to support them."

  • 1925 next

    From left: Gwendolyn, Meme Clarke Butler (Katherine's mother), Elizabeth Marguerita White (cousin) and Jesse White (aunt). Front: Edna Clarke (cousin) and Mary Garrett (cousin). "Aunt Jesse, my father's sister, was an important character in my upbringing. She embodied the independent spirit and appreciation of land ownership."

  • 1930 next

    409 Edgecombe Avenue. Among Kathy's neighbors: W.E.B. DuBois, Walter White, Thurgood Marshall, Roy Wilkins, and Dr. May Edward Chin, the first African American woman to graduate from the Bellevue Medical School.

  • 1936 next

    Baby Kathy with parents, on roof of 409 Edgecombe Avenue.

  • 1946 next

    Kathy attended the Ethical Culture Summer Camp in Cooperstown, NY as a camper from 1946-'51, and returned in 1955 as a counselor in charge of the waterfront. It was there she met Hubie Jones.

  • 1957 next

    Kathy and Hubie wed.

  • 1977 next

    Activists in the making, Lisa, Cheryl, Tanya, and Hamilton Jones join friends in a march through Roxbury.

  • 1978 next

    The Newton School Committee Inauguration. Kathy was elected to the first of four terms, defeating three white, male opponents, making history as the first successful African American candidate.

  • 1980 next

    The entire Jones family is honored on the occasion of the Boston City Hall event "A Tribute to Citizens Who Make a Difference."

  • 1982 next

    Growing up, the Jones children celebrated Black History Month by making presentations to family members and invited guests about famous African-Americans. "Roots" author Alex Haley wrote to Tanya, nine, in response to a letter from her about her presentation on him that year.

  • 1995 next

    Kathy's cousin's Edna Clarke and Mary Garrett (see 1925) revisit the family's history at an exhibit curated by Kathy at the Museum of Our National Heritage (now the National Heritage Museum).

  • 2002 next

    Authored "The Civil Rights Movement in Newton: 1950s-1970s" with Lillie Jefferson and Nina L. King.

  • 2012 next

    Katherine Butler Jones, today.

409 Edgecombe Avenue: The House On Sugar Hill

The 1930s were a dynamic time in Harlem, the Negro capital of the world. During that time I grew up in 409 Edgecombe Avenue a hive a Negro intellectual life in Harlem. Walter White, Thurgood Marhsall, Roy Wilkins and W.E.B. Du Bois – all officials of the NAACP – were my neighbors. I also learned a lot from the women who came to my apartment to have their hair done by my mother, a beautician. Most of the characters in this play are based on people that I knew though, somehow, growing up, I had never heard of Madame St. Clair. She was a glamorous figure who controlled the policy business in Harlem, ran numbers, was sought after by Dutch Schultz, and lived in our building. How could she be such a powerful woman at that time yet be utterly unknown today? With this play, I seek to revisit her story, as well as those of the many characters that occupied the halls of 409 Edgecombe.

I wrote this play in tribute to the people of all walks of life who lived in this 13 story vertical community in the 1930s and '40s.

Production Contact:

More About 409 Edgecombe

Harlem Reader


Katherine Butler Jones graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a B.A. in Economics and Sociology, received her M.A. in Urban Education at Simmons College and her doctorate in Education from Harvard while serving as the Supervisor of Elementary Staff and Program for the Cambridge Public School system. She began her professional teaching career in the Boston Public School system and co-founded and co-directed the Roxbury-Newton Freedom School. She was a founding member of the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunities (METCO), a 45-year-old voluntary program that educates Boston students of color in 35 suburban public school systems, and served as director of the Newton Public School's METCO program for a decade. Kathy went on to teach African American History at Boston University and Urban Education at Simmons and Wheelock Colleges.

My career has centered on improving the quality of the educational opportunities for black youth, from preschool to graduate school.


For Katherine Butler Jones, activism comes in many forms, whether as writer, historian or educator or change agent. She was a member of the Board of Directors of Family Service Association of Greater Boston and the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. Among her many acts toward societal improvement, she has served as a consultant for Roxbury Children's Services; Circle Associates, providing race awareness training to Massachusetts school personnel, and the Education Development Center's Evaluation of Poverty Impact Program for The Boston Foundation. She has been named to both the Who's Who Among Black Americans and The World's Who's Who of Women.

School committee, running for congress, events at our home, that's what we were always doing. As a result, our eight children met many interesting people and grew up with the idea that they had to give back to the community. None work in the private sector, making a lot of money. All are helping and educating people.