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The Pride of the 99th Pursuit Squadron

By Zaria Whitlock

Fig 1: Anthony Jones "Pride of the 99th"

Champaign County has the distinguished honor of being known as the “Birthplace of the Tuskegee Airmen” as can be seen on green highway signs in the county. Located in Rantoul, the Chanute Air Force Base (AFB) began as a training school for pilots during World War I and was eventually reopened as a technical training center (1 | 2). Home to one of the earliest Air Force Training Schools established in 1917, Chanute Field served as the training school for Air Corp mechanics between 1922 and 1938 (3). Chanute Field’s mark on history would continue in March of 1941 when the first flying unit of African Americans, the 99th Pursuit Squadron (later the 99th Fighter Squadron) of the Tuskegee Airmen, was constituted (4). The Tuskegee Airmen made history as the first African American aviators in the U.S. military service. As one of the most celebrated units in World War II history, the Tuskegee Airmen included not only the pilots but also the service members within the squadrons, groups, and those stationed at their combat and training bases (4). Upon activation, the unit was without pilots and focused primarily on training ground crews before the unit was moved to its long-term home in Tuskegee, Alabama where pilots were trained (4). The legacy of Chanute lives on in the stories of individuals whose service careers are tied to the base.

Born to Irving and Daisy Jones in 1917, Anthony Clayborne Jones was born and raised in Champaign, Illinois. Anthony was one of eleven children who called Champaign home. Similar to many residents living in the Champaign-Urbana area, the Jones family lived and worked in both cities throughout their lives. The Jones family resided at 507 Maple Street for a few years before moving into what would be their long-term family home. During these three years, Irving (sr.) worked at the Big Four Railroad Station. Dating back to 1921, the Joneses lived at 506-A West Vine Street for several years until moving for a brief stint and returning in 1932. In this period, while the Joneses lived on West Vine Street, Irving (sr.) worked at Swannell Drug Store in downtown Champaign and as a janitor at the Oxford and Cambridge Apartments. Based on information recovered from Champaign and Urbana city directories, several Joneses lived at the same residence during various periods of time. It is presumed that the individuals listed are among the eleven Jones children. Between the years of 1927 and 1931, the Jones family resided at 506 Maple Street. Alongside their parents, the Jones children contributed to the family’s financial stability by maintaining jobs. For example, in 1931, the Jones family relied on Irving Sr., Irving Jr., and another brother Lyle for income. While they maintained streams of income, the jobs held by members of the family changed frequently. A year later in 1932, the Jones family moved back into their home on West Vine Street. Meanwhile, multiple Jones children worked on their studies at Champaign Central High School.

Fig 2: Betty Jones, Anthony's younger sister appearing in the 1940 Maroon Yearbook

Irving Sr. continued to work as a janitor at the Oxford and Cambridge Apartments while Anthony's sister Eunice worked as a maid, and Irving Jr. worked as a bell boy at the Urbana-Lincoln Hotel. Once the Jones family returned to West Vine Street, members of the family resided in the home until 1970 when they moved away to an unknown location. During this nearly four-decade period, members of the family gained professional experience from a variety of jobs including positions as custodial staff, teachers, and laborers. For multiple years, Irving Sr. continued to work as a janitor at the Oxford and Cambridge Apartments until working as a laborer in 1935 and 1936. Irving Sr. landed a job as a mechanical engineer in 1938 while the Jones children supplemented his income including Irving Jr., Josephine who worked as a teacher, and Eunice who continued to work as a maid. Throughout the 1940s, Irving Sr. held multiple jobs on the custodial staff at the Champaign News-Gazette and the Douglass Center. 

Fig 3: The Douglass Center

During this period, Eunice worked primarily as a maid, but landed employment at Chanute Field for one year (1947). Irving Jr. worked as a custodian and spent one year (1949) with Irving Sr. at the Douglass Center. By 1954, Daisy was listed as the widow of Irving Sr. in the city directory. As a result of information cross-referenced between city directories and the Illinois Statewide Death Index, it appears Irving Sr. passed away in 1953 (5). Not long after their father died, Josephine and Eunice assumed responsibility of the family home until 1970. The importance of a strong work ethic within the Jones family was demonstrated across various resources which detailed their relentless pursuit to provide stability within their home. Anthony had tangible models of service and commitment in his immediate family. Later in his life, these values would come to benefit individuals on a much larger scale than solely the local community. 

Before enlisting in the Army Air Corps, Jones established his proficiency in boxing on the West Coast with the Los Angeles-based organization Professional Prizefighter. According to records maintained by BoxRec, Jones made his professional debut at the Coliseum in San Diego, California on August 30th, 1940 with a KO against Gabby Hardison (6). Jones distinguished himself as a boxer later in the year with two impressive showings in the 1940 Golden Gloves competition. Runner-up in the Golden Gloves competition as a welterweight, Jones rose to prominence with a win in the international bouts against Karl Noren of Sweden (7). Jones, who typically fought within the welterweight division, exhibited a particularly impressive skill set over middleweight Noren that electrified spectators (8). Jones along with three of the four colored men on Chicago’s Golden Gloves team won their bouts equalizing the scorecard between the United States and the European champions (8). Following the Golden Gloves competition, Jones boasted an undefeated record in his brief professional career under the management of well-known comedian Eddie “Rochester” Anderson (9 | 10). About two months into his professional boxing career, Jones decided to devote his skills and athletic prowess to the armed services. At the age of 23, Jones registered for the World War II draft on October 16th of that year. 

Fig 4: Jones's WWII Draft Registration Card (front)

Fig 4: Jones's WWII Draft Registration Card (back)

Jones was stationed locally at Chanute AFB as a member of the 99th Pursuit Squadron of the Tuskegee Airmen. Jones is believed to have remained stateside during the war as a member of the ground crew who worked on planes used by the unit. 

Fig 5: Jones training with sheet metal welding at Chanute AFB in November 1941

Fortunately, Jones’s career as a boxer did not cease following his enlistment. Jones had fights recorded throughout 1941, in the Midwest region (6). Additionally, Jones was among several soldiers with varying levels of experience as boxers who were stationed at Chanute AFB. Less than six months into his service career, Jones continued to refine and develop his skills in the ring by participating in the Chanute Field fights hosted on base. These largely successful bouts were organized by Lt. Ervin Schiesl and Tex Penny (10).

Fig 6: Pvt. Jones and Pvt. Coleman pictured prior to bout in the summer of 1941

Fig 7: Jones and Chanute Sluggers pose for photo prior to boxing show

The boxing matches provided soldiers the opportunity to display their capability as fighters through one of many intramural-style sports hosted on base encouraging inter-unit competition and boosting morale. Jones, known in the ring as “Mad Anthony”, was a consistent favorite in the boxing shows, regularly participating in the premiere bout of each event. 

Fig 8: Corp. Jones and Corp. Coleman sign contracts for the August 20th bout

One of the highly anticipated matchups featured Jones and Corp. Jimmy Coleman as two of the post’s top-ranking fighters with notable reputations amongst middleweights in the Midwest (10). With a decisive victory over Coleman on August 20th, Jones added an additional victory to his boxing record (11)

Fig 9: Jones lands uppercut during premiere bout against Coleman on August 20th

The fight drew a crowd of about 11,000 which was the largest attendance for a boxing show in east-central Illinois (11). The success of the boxing show prompted Lt. Schiesl to contact Ed Cochrane of the Chicago Herald American with the hope of securing guest appearances from heavyweight champion Joe Louis and middleweight champion Tony Zale for the boxing show tentatively scheduled for October of 1941 (11). Chanute AFB welcomed Joe Louis as one of the stops included in Louis’s exhibition schedule.

Fig 10: Jones and Joe Louis pictured prior to Louis's exhibition workout at Chanute AFB

Securing Louis’s appearance can likely be credited to the history between Jones and Louis in addition to Louis’s link to the base considering rumors that he would be stationed at Chanute after being drafted (12). Louis’s eagerness to provide entertainment for the soldiers coupled with his prestige as a champion boxer garnered a crowd of about 12,000 spectators (12).    

Jones continued to show his superiority in the ring with a swift victory over prominent middleweight George Mitchell which Jones credited as one of the most important of his boxing career (13). Jones was tentatively scheduled to appear in multiple fights in the Midwest, which with victories, would warrant Jones an opportunity to fight other top-ranked middleweights (13). Throughout his esteemed boxing career, Jones fought with the support of his family in the cheering section who looked on as their son and brother imposed his will on opponents.

Fig 11: Sportstars feature "Mad Anthony"

Jones’s life, following his service career, was sparsely documented which inhibited efforts to provide a holistic overview of Jones’s personal life. However, Jones’s career as a boxer continued after his time in the Army Air Corps. Based on Jones’s professional boxing record and obvious skillset, Jones relocated to New Orleans to continue boxing for several years. Jones’s travel can be tracked by his professional record including appearances in cities such as Las Vegas, Hollywood, Portland, Boston, Salem, Providence, etc (6). The final fight of Jones’s career is listed on May 17, 1949, as a loss to Clarence Wilkinson at the Page Arena in New Bedford (6). Research shows Jones resided in Louisiana for several years during his boxing career until returning to Champaign County before the 1960s. Jones’s experience as a boxer would prove to be influential within his local community.

More than the “Pride of the 99th Pursuit Squadron”, Jones exemplified the nuances of the human experience. Jones not only made history as a Tuskegee Airman and the first international Golden Gloves champion from Champaign but he also found joy in the little things such as indulgence in fancy clothing and a preference to exercise in the form of jitterbugging (7). Jones’s preference for dancing is no surprise considering his footwork as a boxer likely lent itself to his participation on the dance floor. Jones maintained strong ties to the Champaign-Urbana area throughout his years of service which greatly benefited the community. No stranger to the virtue of service, Jones donated his time and expertise to a local athletic club during the 1960s and 1970s. The Champaign-Urbana Athletic Club was established by Khair Aazaad Ali (formerly Freddie Davis) and Anderson Epps to intervene on behalf of several young people who faced legal ramifications following an incident at the Douglass Center (14). Epps spoke with the presiding Judge and convinced him the boxing club would offer young people in the community a constructive means by which to exert their energy (14). Ali and Epps enlisted the help of Jones, along with several Golden Gloves fighters, to utilize their experience to referee and assist with matches held at the boxing club (14). The importance of the Douglass Center in Jones’s life went beyond his participation in the athletic club considering both his father’s and brother’s employment at the center as custodial staff for years during the late 1940s. Jones demonstrated the depth of his commitment to service through his ongoing dedication to share his lived experience with the next generation. Jones’s status as a trailblazer was at the foundation of everything he pursued in his lifetime with a ripple effect that went well beyond the local Champaign-Urbana community.


  1. “Chanute Air Force Base.” Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. State of Illinois. Accessed March 2, 2024.

  2. “Former Chanute Air Force Base (BRAC 1988).” Air Force Civil Engineering Center. United States Air Force. Accessed March 2, 2024.

  3. “Technical Training at Chanute Air Force Base.” Local History & Genealogy Digital Exhibits. The Urbana Free Library. Accessed May 18, 2024.

  4. Collins, Jeremy. “The Tuskegee Airmen: An Interview with the Leading Authority.” 14 July 2020. The National World War II Museum.

  5. “Jones and Irving.” Illinois Statewide Death Index, 1916-1972. Illinois State Archives. Accessed 25 May 2024.

  6. “Anthony Jones.” BoxRec. Accessed 25 May 2024.

  7. “Sportstars: ‘Mad Anthony’.” Chanute Field Wings, 17 October 1941. 

  8. “Negroes Win in GG’s at Chicago.” The Phoenix Index, 20 April 1940: 6. Accessed May 18, 2024.

  9. “Boxing Show Tops Sport: Fight Program Lists 9 Bouts.” Chanute Field Wings, 15 August 1941. 

  10. “Coleman, Jones to Fight Aug. 20: Middleweight Bout Tops Outdoor Boxing Show.” Chanute Field Wings, 8 August 1941. 

  11. “Jones Stops Coleman in Fight: Cops 6 Round Decision.” Chanute Field Wings, 22 August 1941.

  12. “Louis Inspects Chanute and Likes It; 12,000 Watch His Exhibition.” Chanute Field Wings, 17 October 1941: 10-11. 

  13. “Jones Advances Another Step.” Chanute Field Wings, 31 October 1941. 

  14. McGee, Barbara. “The Champaign-Urbana Athletic Club.” Through the Years: African - American History in Champaign County. Summer 1997: 1-4.  Museum of the Grand Prairie.

Figure References

Figure 1: “Jones to Battle Fred Cinereski.” Chanute Field Wings, 4 July 1941. 

Figure 2: The Sophisticates (Seniors). Maroon. Champaign Central High School, 1940: 25. 

Figure 3: Douglass Recreation Center. Champaign County Historical Archives.

Figure 4: Jones, Anthony Clayborne. World War II Draft Registration Card. 16 October 1940.  

Figure 5: Anthony Jones metal sheet training - November 1941. Champaign County Historical Archives. 

Figure 6: “Fans Demand They Meet.” Chanute Field Wings, 23 May 1941. 

Figure 7: “Chanute Sluggers Ready for Fray.” Chanute Field Wings, 11 July 1941. 

Figure 8: “Coleman, Jones to Fight Aug. 20: Middleweight Bout Tops Outdoor Boxing Show.” Chanute Field Wings, 8 August 1941. 

Figure 9: “Jones Stops Coleman in Fight: Cops 6 Round Decision.” Chanute Field Wings, 22 August 1941. 

Figure 10: “Louis Inspects Chanute and Likes It; 12,000 Watch His Exhibition.” Chanute Field Wings, 17 October 1941: 10-11. 

Figure 11: “Sportstars: ‘Mad Anthony’.” Chanute Field Wings, 17 October 1941.


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