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Nathaniel Jones, retired federal judge and civil rights icon, died Sunday at his home in Cincinnati


Staff report

Nathaniel Jones, a retired federal judge and civil rights icon, died Sunday morning of congestive heart failure at his home in East Walnut Hills. He was 93.

Judge Jones lived in Cincinnati and distinguished himself as a lawyer, judge, public servant and community-engaged citizen throughout his stellar career. He was a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit from 1979 until his retirement in 2002.

Judge Nathanial Raphael Jones

“Nathaniel Jones was one of the greatest civil rights leaders this nation has ever known, having worked with Thurgood Marshall during the Brown v Board case, desegregating countless schools and institutions as head of the NAACP legal defense fund, to helping South Africa come out of apartheid, to ensuring individual rights as a federal judge,” Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said in a statement. “To be in his presence was to be in the presence of greatness. Knowing him has been one of the greatest honors of my life.”

As general counsel of the NAACP, he gained recognition for his efforts to end school segregation.

He was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the federal bench in 1979 and assumed senior status in 1995.

After his retirement from the federal bench, he served as Senior Counsel in the Cincinnati office of Blank Rome LLP.

Jones was born in Youngstown, Ohio, and after serving in the Army Air Corps during WW II, pursued his education at Youngstown State University where he received his law degree in 1956. He went into private law practice and then served as Executive Director of the Fair Employment Practices Commission

In 1962, he became the first African American to be appointed as Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio in Cleveland and held that position until his 1967 appointment as Assistant General Counsel to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (the Kerner Commission).

Jones returned to private practice with the firm of Goldberg & Jones in Youngstown.

In 1969, he was asked to serve as general counsel of the NAACP by executive director Roy Wilkins. For the next nine years, Jones directed all NAACP litigation. In addition to personally arguing several cases in the United States Supreme Court, he coordinated national efforts to end northern school segregation, to defend affirmative action, and to inquire into discrimination against black servicemen in the United States military.

Jones’ record of community and academic service included teaching at Harvard Law School and at the University of Cincinnati. His efforts in civil and human rights took him to countries around the world to advocate for human rights.

On May 6, 2003, the second federal courthouse established in his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio was named in his honor.

In Northern Kentucky, Jones was a founding member and long supporter of the Metropolitan Club. The University of Cincinnati named its Center for Race, Gender and Social Justice after Jones in 2019.

He is being widely honored as a gentleman, a legend, a hero and a leader.

He is survived by a sister, Allie Jean Wooten of Youngstown; daughters Stephanie Jones of Washington DC and East Walnut Hills; Pamela Velez of Pittsburg; sons Rick Hawthorne of East Walnut Hills and William Hawthorne and Marc Hawthorne of Atlanta; eight grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.


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