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Nathaniel Jones, Cincinnati civil rights icon, dies at 93

Posted: 9:23 AM, Jan 26, 2020
Updated: 2020-01-27 06:49:12-05
Retired Judge Nathaniel Jones collapses at NAACP

CINCINNATI — Nathaniel Jones, a retired federal judge and Cincinnati civil rights icon, has died. He was 93.

The Hamilton County Coroner's office confirmed Jones's passing on Sunday.

Born in Youngstown, Ohio in 1926, Jones began his career as a federal attorney and was appointed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1979. He was appointed senior status on the court in 1995, where he presided until his retirement in 2002.

"He was such a good lawyer that they named a federal courthouse after him in his hometown," said Gina Ruffin Moore, author of 'Cincinnati: Black America Series.' That recognition came after decades of hard work and accomplishments that changed history.

For his contributions to civil rights, namely his work in desegregating schools in the U.S. and for his consulting work that helped end Apartheid in South Africa, the NAACP awarded Jones its Spingarn Medal. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall received the same honor in 1946, and other recipients of the award include the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Hank Aaron, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Oprah Winfrey.

"That helped our entire country -- it had an impact from people not only in the northern states but also the Midwest and throughout the South," said Eric Kearney, with the African American Chamber.

Jones was also the first African American to become an assistant United States attorney in the state of Ohio, and played a part in the Kerner Commission -- a group President Lyndon Johnson put together in 1967 to look into the causes of racial unrest in the U.S.

"Judge Jones was a giant among us -- I don't even know if we realize it day to day -- I mean, he changed the course of history," said Jan-Michelle Lemon Kearney, publisher of the Cincinnati Herald.

Read more: Nathaniel Jones honored by NAACP for lifetime of commitment to civil rights

In 2003, Congress passed a resolution naming Youngstown's Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse after Jones, and the University of Cincinnati, where Jones was an adjunct professor, renamed its Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice in his honor in 2019.

After retiring from the court, Jones entered private practice with Blank Rome LLC.

As news broke Sunday of his passing, several community leaders paid tribute to Jones on social media.