Founded on January 10, 1860, by Joseph Jones and his wife, Sarah Pankey Jones, as a small family farm, Jonesboro is now a small industrial mill town. Originally founded as "Macedonia," the name of the small town changed to Jonesboro on January 16, 1901, after the United States Post Office Department approved the change and became the seat of government for Jackson Parish on March 15, 1911, following a parish-wide referendum.  Jonesboro remains agricultural, industrial, economic, and governmental center of the parish.
During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, whites violently resisted African-American efforts to gain their constitutional rights as citizens, even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Ku Klux Klan, which was active in the area, conducted what was called a "reign of terror" in 1964, including harassment of activists, "the burning of crosses on the lawns of African-American voters," murder, and destroying five black churches by fire, as well as their Masonic hall, and a Baptist center.
In November 1964, leaders Earnest "Chilly Willy" Thomas and Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick (the latter ordained that year as a minister of the Church of God in Christ), founded the Deacons for Defense and Justice in Jonesboro. It was an armed self-defense group, made up of mostly mature men who were veterans of World War II and the Korean War. At night, they conducted regular patrols of the black community in the city, which occupied an area known as "the Quarters". They protected civil rights activists and their families during and outside demonstrations. At the request of activists in Bogalusa, Louisiana, another mill town where blacks were under pressure by violent whites, Thomas and Kirkpatrick helped found an affiliated chapter in that city. Ultimately there were 21 chapters in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, operating through 1968. In Jonesboro, the Deacons achieved some changes, such as integrating parks and a swimming pool. Activists achieved more after congressional passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and their entry into politics.