Frank Jones was born in Clarksville, Texas in 1900. His descendants were slaves who had been re-settled in East Texas from other Southern states to provide labor for cotton farming. Frank received little in the way of formal education, he never learned to read or write. However, the racial segregation that pervaded African American life at this time also led to a preservation of African cultural traditions which would have a lasting impact on Jones’ life. One of these traditions was manifested in the story of Jones’ birth. According to Frank Jones, his mother told him that he had been born with a “veil” over his left eye, which would allow him to see into the spirit world. This is an African American folk belief that a “caul” ( part of the fetal membrane left over the newborn’s eye at birth } will enable the child to see and communicate with spirits, often described as “second sight”.
Frank Jones grew up with this belief and expectation. He described how he began to see spirits about the age of nine. He called them “haints” or devils and for the young Frank they were an ominous presence in his daily life. According to Jones he would see the devils overtly, as well as disguised as animals. They haunted him. Frank Jones grew into a troubled man. He worked odd jobs as a laborer and farm hand, but began drinking heavily. His life became more and more haphazard and irresponsible, In 1941, he was convicted of raping a young girl who he had apparently sheltered for a year after her abandonment by her mother. The charges were brought by the mother and Jones was convicted. He served seven years in Red River County Jail. In 1960 he was again accused and convicted of rape and was imprisoned to complete his life sentence at the Walls Unit of Huntsville State Prison.
Some time in the early 1960’s Frank began to draw. Using some worn down stubs of red and blue pencils discarded by the prison accountants and some scavenged paper, he began to draw what he called “devil houses’. Frank would later described these pointed borders as “devil horns” and the blue and red colors as representing fire and smoke. Soon the drawings began to include the devils or ‘haints” that had been Frank’s companions throughout his life. 1
1 Bio excerpt courtesy of Carl Hammer Gallery.