Awards & Events

Jones Receives NAACP’s Spingarn Medal

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Nathaniel R. Jones, retired federal judge and Youngstown State University alumnus, received the 101st Annual Spingarn Medal at the 2016 convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Cincinnati

Named after J.E. Spingarn, an early chairman of the NAACP board of director, the medal recognizes Jones, retired from the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals judge, for his commitment to equality and civil rights. He served as general counsel for the NAACP from 1969 to 1979 and worked with Nelson Mandela and the post-apartheid South African government to help draft a new constitution for that country in 1993.

Jones, 90, who earned bachelors and law degrees from Youngstown College in the 1950s, joins a list of prominent previous recipients of the award, including George Washington Carver, Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, Maya Angelou, Colin Powell, Sidney Poitier and Martin Luther King Jr.

An Air Force veteran of World War II, Jones used GI Bill benefits to help pay his way through college and law school, also working as a printer and editor at The Buckeye Review. Jones was just a few years out of law school when Attorney General Robert Kennedy named him an assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio in Cleveland, the first African American in Ohio to hold that position.

Seven years later, following a series of race riots in Detroit and Los Angeles, Jones was named assistant general counsel to the Kerner Commission, a panel formed by President Lyndon Johnson to investigate causes and solutions for the racial unrest.

In 1969 he was recruited to be general counsel for the NAACP, where he served for 10 years, arguing cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, battling the idea of “separate but equal” and coordinating national efforts related to school segregation and racial discrimination. A decade later, President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the federal judgeship. He continued to be involved in civil rights matters elsewhere in the world.

Jones recently authored a book of his memoirs that spans his 70-year law career and America’s Civil Rights Movement. The book is titled “Answering the Call: An Autobiography of the Modern Struggle to End Racial Discrimination in America.”

Other honors Jones has received include the Pillar of Justice Award from the Federal Bar Association, the Changing the Odds Award from the Children’s Defense Fund, the American Lawyer’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund Award of Excellence and the Millennium International Volunteer Award from the U.S. State Department.

He also received the YSU Friend of the University Award, and in 2003 the new federal courthouse in Youngstown was named the Nathaniel R. Jones Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse.

Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.