Looking back on the life of civil rights icon Judge Nathaniel Jones

Looking back on the life of civil rights icon Judge Nathaniel Jones

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Judge Nathaniel Jones, a fighter for freedom and civil rights, died January 2020 in Cincinnati at the age of 93.

His daughter says Jones’ fight for equality started at a very young age.

“So he heard the stories, he didn’t know his grandparents or great grandparents who were slaves, and he heard the stories and knew the history of slavery in the family,” Stephanie Jones said.

He saw first hand how the law can help fight discrimination when he was told at a restaurant that his kind was not welcome.

“He used the law to address that discrimination. And he agreed to settle the case even though he knew he could have gotten more had he went to trial. But he also knew the money he was about to get would cover his legal fees and it would make the point. The restaurant would have to admit that they were in violation of the law and had discriminated against him based on race,” Stephanie said.

Judge Nathaniel Jones pictured with Bobby Kennedy
Judge Nathaniel Jones pictured with Bobby Kennedy (Source: Provided by Jones' daughter)

Judge Jones was the first African American Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio in the 1960′s during the Kennedy administration.

For 10 years he was the general counsel for the NAACP - a position once held by the country’s first black Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Judge Jones pictured with NAACP leadership in 1971.
Judge Jones pictured with NAACP leadership in 1971. (Source: Provided by Jones' daughter)

One of his most notable cases pitted Jones against Alabama Governor George Wallace.

Governor Wallace is known for trying to block black students from entering the University of Alabama in the 1960′s.

Jones and other lawyers helped convince Alabama’s parole board and Wallace to pardon Clarence Norris.

Norris was among nine “Scottsboro Boys” who were falsely accused of raping two white women in the 1930′s.

“They went through a long process but were able to get the pardon. He said at one point after his meeting with Wallace, Wallace said ‘I am not such a bad guy, am I?’" Jones’ daughter said.

Judge Jones came to Cincinnati in 1979 after being appointed to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He would hold the position for 23 years.

“Oh, he loved Cincinnati. He lived in Cincinnati for nearly 40 years. This became home. Both he and my mom became key figures in the community. And he loved how Cincinnati embraced him when he first arrived here,” Jones’ daughter said.

The Cincinnati Chamber deemed Judge Jones a “great living Cincinnatian” in 1997.

During an interview with FOX19 NOW in 2015, Jones spoke about race relations.

“It seems as though each time we make progress along comes some event to lead to a setback and so it’s been an effort to be persistent,” Jones said.

In 2016, he was given the Spingarn Medal, the highest award bestowed by the NAACP.

Judge Nathaniel Jones died on Jan. 26, 2020 at his East Walnut Hills home of congestive heart failure.

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