Robert Reynolds “Bob” Jones, Sr. (1883-1968), evangelist and founder of Bob Jones University, was born in rural Dale County in southeastern Alabama. A Methodist, Jones was converted at a revival meeting when he was eleven years old and by the time he was fourteen he had begun preaching. Jones attended Southern University (today’s Birmingham Southern College) for three years but did not finish a degree, opting instead to concentrate on evangelistic work.
A militant fundamentalist, Jones conducted a wide-ranging campaign denouncing modernist teachings on the Bible and evolution and the abandonment of traditional Protestant social mores. Viewing the control of education as the key to defending the faith, Jones started Bob Jones College near Panama City, Florida in 1927. The financial burden of the Depression caused Jones to move the school to Cleveland, Tennessee in 1933, and financial considerations likewise played a major role in the school’s final move to Greenville, South Carolina in 1947 (where it became Bob Jones University). Jones was an early supporter of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) but by the mid-1950s had broken with the movement, largely over its support of Billy Graham (who had left the school after his freshman year), whom Jones and his militant son Bob Jones, Jr. viewed as a compromiser for his inclusion of mainline clergy in his evangelistic crusades.
Increasingly, Bob Jones, Sr. and Jr. and their University were seen as the embodiment of ultra-separatist fundamentalism. Although the school emphasized a film school and prided itself on its Shakespearian productions and art collection, the Jones’ insistence on rigid social policies and the maintenance of on-campus segregation (black students were not admitted until 1971 and a ban against interracial dating was in place until 2000) made it a symbol in the popular press and among many evangelicals of the backward-looking mindset of the fundamentalist movement.
For further reading see Mark T. Dalhouse, Island in the Lake of Fire: Bob Jones University, Fundamentalism, and the Separatist Movement (Georgia, 1996), and R.K. Johnson, Builder of Bridges: The Biography of Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. (BJU Press, 1982).