Former federal judge, NAACP lawyer Nathaniel Jones dies

Courthouse named after Youngtown native

Nathaniel Jones

Youngstown native U.S. Judge Nathaniel R. Jones, for whom one of the downtown Youngstown court buildings is named, died Sunday in Cincinnati. He was 93.

Jones, who had a 23-year career on the federal appeals court bench in Cincinnati, died of congestive heart failure early Sunday at his home, according to his daughter, Stephanie Jones, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

“It would be fair to say he was an icon from the Valley,” Jay Williams, who was mayor of Youngstown from 2005 to 2011, said Sunday afternoon. “His kindness and his wisdom almost belied the titan that he was. We need more men of his stature and character.

“I was just honored to have known him. I’m just proud to be from the same hometown as was Judge Jones, and we need to keep the family in our thoughts and prayers.”

Jones was the senior judge of the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, serving from May 1995 to March 2002.

In May 2003, Youngstown’s second federal courthouse was named to honor Jones.

“That’s not a feat given lightly,” Williams said.

Judges, politicians and many people who worked with and for Jones attended the ceremony.

“This building, which will forever carry your name, will be a testament to outstanding public service by a local boy made good,” former U.S. Rep. Louis B. Stokes of Cleveland said at the dedication, according to The Vindicator archives.

“Today we lost a giant,” U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan’s office said in a statement Sunday afternoon. “Nathaniel Jones, a Youngstown native, devoted his life to fighting for civil rights.

“His decades of service to the NAACP began as a youth council member in Youngstown, rising to the position of general council, where he argued cases in front of the Supreme Court and led litigation to stop discrimination in the military, end school segregation and defend affirmative action. He will be sorely missed, but his legacy will not be forgotten,” Ryan, D-Howland, said.

Ned Gold, a Warren attorney who knew Jones, said, “He was a titan in the legal profession and one of the finest judges that I had the opportunity to appear before.”

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley praised Jones on Sunday for his work in civil rights and said that knowing him “has been one of the greatest honors of my life.

“Cincinnati and our country is a better place for his life,” Cranley said in the statement.

Jones was born on May 12, 1926, in Youngstown in a house on Court Street in the city’s Smoky Hollow section, a few blocks from the location of the courthouse, which opened in October on the corner of East Commerce Street and Wick Avenue, according to Vindicator archives.

He worked in two buildings near the courthouse site and also at city hall, when he served as executive director of the city’s Fair Employment Practices Commission from 1956 to 1959.

Jones had a long and distinguished legal and civil rights career that includes being the first African American appointed as assistant U.S. attorney for the Northeast District of Ohio in 1962, serving as assistant general counsel to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders and serving 10 years as general counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Jones was committed to civil rights over eight decades and in 2016 the NAACP presented him its highest honor, the Spingarn Medal. His involvement with the NAACP began when he was a youth council member in Youngstown. He served for 10 years, from 1969 through 1979, as the NAACP’s general counsel.

Jones directed all of the organization’s litigation to end Northern school desegregation, defend Affirmative Action and question discrimination against African Americans serving in the U.S. military. He personally argued several cases in the U.S. Supreme Court.

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Jones gave his final formal comments Nov. 14 during a ceremony at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, where the University of Cincinnati College of Law renamed and relaunched its Nathaniel R. Jones Center for Race, Gender and Social Justice. Jones was a center co-founder in 2010.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center — which Jones supported from its inception — made him the 12th recipient of its ultimate prize, the International Freedom Conductor Award.

Jones’ memoir, “Answering the Call: An Autobiography of the Modern Struggle to End Racial Discrimination in America,” was published in May 2016 by New Press. He said the book was 10 years in the making.

Jones served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and returned home to earn his undergraduate degree from Youngstown State University in 1951. He went on to get his law degree there in 1956 and was admitted the following year to the bar.

No information on services or a memorial is available, the family said, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer

The Associated Press contributed to this article.


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