Jones, Youngstown Native and Federal Judge, Dies at 93

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Nathaniel R. Jones, a retired federal judge and Youngstown native, has died at 93.

He died of congestive failure Sunday morning and had been hospitalized much of the past month, his daughter, Stephanie Jones, said. 

His final speech was Nov. 14 at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, during a ceremony conducted by the University of Cincinnati College of Law to formally rename and relaunch the Nathaniel R. Jones Center for Race, Gender and Social Justice, which he co-founded in 2010.

“Today we lost a giant,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio 13, in a statement released by his office. “Nathaniel Jones, a Youngstown-native, devoted his life to fighting for civil rights. … He will be sorely missed, but his legacy will not be forgotten.”

Born in Smoky Hollow, Jones served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and received degrees from Youngstown State University in 1951 and 1956. The following year, he was admitted to the bar. From 1956 to 1959, he was executive director of the Youngstown Fair Employment Practices Commission.

In 1962, Jones became the first African American named assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern Ohio District. Seven years later, he was named by President Lyndon Johnson to the Kerner Commission, established after race riots in Detroit and Los Angeles to investigate the causes and possible solutions to such unrest.

From 1969 to 1978, he served as general counsel for the NAACP, arguing cases before the United States Supreme Court, leading efforts to end school segregation and inquiring into alleged discrimination against black soldiers in the military. His interest in social justice dated back much further, however. Jones told The Business Journal in 2016 that his interest in equality stemmed from trips to the West Federal YMCA, which often hosted national speakers on racial justice.

“[My mother] took me to hear one of the speakers and I went for several years after that,” Jones said. “I developed a keen interest in the issues they discussed. And I learned these issues were not limited to Youngstown.”

Later, Jones was part of a group that worked to desegregate public swimming pools in the city. The group was met by a mob and attacked. Jones and others were able to identify some of the attackers, which led to their arrests. 

After working for the NAACP, Jones was nominated for a seat on the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals by President Jimmy Carter and confirmed on Oct. 4, 1979. He retired from the position in 1995 and held senior status until 2002, later joining Blank Rome LLP in Cincinnati.

In 2003, the federal courthouse at the corner of Commerce Street and Wick Avenue was named in his honor. 

In 2016, the American Bar Association honored Jones as a Difference Maker for Breaking Barriers for his work in the abolition of apartheid in South Africa. The drafters of the country’s constitution consulted with Jones and, upon his release from prison, Nelson Mandela met with Jones.

Jones was also the recipient of the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal, the Pillar of Justice Award from the Federal Bar Association, the Millennium International Volunteer Award from the U.S. State Department, the Changing the Odds Award from the Children’s Defense Fund and the Youngstown State’s Friend of the University Award.

Pictured: Nathaniel R. Jones in 2016. Image via the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library [Public Domain]

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