Photo of Judge Nathaniel Jones
Nathaniel R. Jones, ’51 AB, ’56 JD
Nathaniel R. Jones was nine years old, sitting front-and-center in what was then known as Youngstown’s “colored” YMCA, when he first heard a civil rights activist speak. That day, the small boy from a poor black family began thinking about a career in law.
Jones became one of the first African Americans to serve as a federal judge, appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, with jurisdiction over Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee and Kentucky. A graduate of Youngstown College and its School of Law, he has played key role in advancing civil rights, both in the United States and in South Africa.
Thinking back, Judge Jones credits his mother for sensitizing him at an early age to issues like segregation and discrimination. She was a member of the ladies auxiliary at the segregated YMCA and poured tea for the nationally recognized civil rights leaders who spoke there on Sunday afternoons. “I never knew why my mother took me to those meetings instead of one of my three siblings,” he says, pensively, “but it made a big difference in my life. That’s where I understood the role the law could play in accomplishing change.”
Now 89 and living in Cincinnati, Jones has authored a book of his memoirs that spans his 70-year law career and America’s Civil Rights Movement. Titled “Answering the Call: An Autobiography of the Modern Struggle to End Racial Discrimination in America,” the book is set for release this spring. “I think the book makes the point that we’ve come a long way, but an ominous shadow still hovers,” he said. “We still have serious issues that must be addressed. It’s a continuous march.”
The autobiography traces his early years, growing up during the Great Depression on Youngstown’s South Side, playing football for South High School and serving as president of the city’s Youth NAACP chapter. “Even in high school, I started getting involved with issues of race and discrimination, and there were many,” he recalls.