Fraternity to honor civil rights pioneer and Youngstown native Judge Nathaniel Jones

By Sarah Lehr


Michael Robinson, a Youngstown State University alum and brother of Kappa Alpha Psi, thinks about Judge Nathaniel R. Jones every time he walks downtown and passes the federal courthouse.

“I get this jolt,” Robinson said. “It’s a sense of responsibility of the need to give back to the local community.

The YSU chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi will present a tribute to Jones today at a private fraternity event in Boardman.

Jones, a former judge on the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, is a graduate of Youngstown City Schools and YSU.

A World War II veteran, he spent his career litigating in favor of school desegregation and voting rights.

Additionally, Jones, who now lives in Cincinnati, was an adviser to South African civil rights leader Nelson Mandela and helped draft his country’s constitution following apartheid, South Africa’s nationally sanctioned segregation. Jones also served as deputy general counsel for President Lyndon Johnson’s Kerner Commission, which was tasked with investigating the 1967 U.S. race riots.

In 1969, Jones became general counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, filling a position once held by Thurgood Marshall, who went on to become the first black justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The theme of today’s tribute to Jones is “Renewing the Dream.” Darren Jordan, polemarch of the East Central province of Kappa Alpha Psi, will be the featured speaker.

The tribute comes on the heels of the announcement that Jones will be the 101st recipient of NAACP’s Spingarn Medal. He will be presented with the honor in July at the NAACP national convention.

The medal, named for an early NAACP founder, recognizes a person of African descent for extraordinary achievement. Past recipients include the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey and Langston Hughes.

“Now tell me that’s not pretty good company,” YSU President Jim Tressel said of the award when introducing Jones at a university event Friday.

For his part, Jones said he never expected to receive the Spingarn Medal.

“I’ve always had the feeling that my participation in trying to improve civil rights and trying to improve the human condition was a calling and I never thought it was something I should be rewarded for,” Jones said. “You do these things because it’s a command – the preamble to our Constitution and our Bill of Rights say what we are obligated to do as citizens.”