Originally from Boston, Jones began her artistic studies at the age of 14, encouraged by her energetic and ambitious parents. Her father, a building foreman, received his law degree at the age of 40; her fashionable mother ran a perfume store. In 1923, Jones studied at the Boston Museum School, followed by studies in Washington and New York, while earning a living in illustration and fabric design. Named professor at Howard University in 1930, she taught until her retirement 47 years later.
In 1937, Jones won a prize to attend the Academie Julian in Paris. Her “Jardin du Luxembourg dates from this time. Stimulated by the intense artistic activity in the city and much less prejudice against Blacks than in the United States, she began to paint landscapes in the Fauvist manner and Cubist canvasses influenced by African sculpture. On return to the United States, she looked for subjects in American black history. Married in 1953 to Haitian painter Louis Verniard Pierre-Noel, her works reflected life in Haiti and multiple voyages around the world, especially her voyages to Africa sponsored by the United States Information Service. She assembled slides and information on African art to found the International Archives of Black Artists at Howard University.