In Memoriam: Judge Nathaniel R. Jones

Judge Jones

It is with great sadness that we share the news that our beloved colleague and friend Judge Nathaniel R. Jones passed away on Sunday, January 26, at age 93. Judge Jones joined Blank Rome in 2002 and served as our first Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. He was integral in helping to foster and promote our rich culture of inclusion throughout the Firm, and selfless in sharing his time and unmatched perspective with so many of us who are better people for having known him. In collaboration with Chris Lewis and Sophia Lee—his successors in the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer role—we have developed a thriving and nationally recognized diversity and inclusion program that reflects his vision and passion. In 2013, we developed the Honorable Nathaniel R. Jones Diversity and Inclusion Award, which is presented annually to a Blank Rome attorney or professional who has demonstrated outstanding leadership in promoting diversity and inclusion. We are grateful to have the opportunity to honor and remember Judge Jones through this important award that will forever bear his name.

In Judge Jones’ obituary, our Cincinnati Office Chair Michael Cioffi notes, “Nate Jones was the kind of hero America needed that (Martin Luther) King described as ‘an extremist for justice’ in ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail.’ Nate’s unwavering commitment to justice, equality, and the rule of law made him a great lawyer and great man. His genuine humility and everyday kindness made him loved by all, including those on the other side of the political spectrum. His life is an important lesson and model to us all.” We couldn’t agree more. While we have lost one of the brightest legal minds and civil rights advocates of our time, his groundbreaking work, steadfast compassion, and inspirational life and legacy will surely live on through the countless lives he has touched—both at Blank Rome and around the world.    

A community visitation will be held at Corinthian Baptist Church, 1920 Tennessee Ave., Cincinnati, Ohio 45237, on Wednesday, January 29, from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and Thursday, January 30, from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

A Life-long Commitment to “Answering the Call”

“Being a lawyer was my calling, and that calling is the work for equal opportunity and justice for all our nation's citizens.” – Judge Nathaniel R. Jones

Answering the Call

In 1962, Judge Jones became the first African American to be appointed as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio in Cleveland. He held that position until his 1967 appointment as Assistant General Counsel to President Lyndon B. Johnson's National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, also known as the Kerner Commission.

Judge Jones went on to hold the position of general counsel of the NAACP from 1969 to 1979 where he directed all NAACP litigation. In addition to personally arguing several cases in the U.S. Supreme Court, he coordinated national efforts to end northern school segregation, to defend affirmative action, and to inquire into discrimination against black servicemen in the U.S. military. He also successfully coordinated the NAACP's defense on First Amendment grounds in the Mississippi Boycott case.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter nominated Judge Jones to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. He served on the court for 23 years, retiring in 2002.

An internationally renowned civil rights activist, Judge Jones played an important role in furthering the abolition of apartheid in South Africa. The drafters of South Africa’s new constitution and laws consulted him, and he conferred with Nelson Mandela upon Mandela’s release from 27 years of imprisonment.

Judge Jones joined Blank Rome in 2002, and we have been blessed and lucky to call him our colleague for nearly 18 years. During his time with us, Judge Jones served as our first Chief Officer of Diversity and Inclusion, creating the strong foundation for our diversity and inclusion program.

Judge Jones also taught trial advocacy at Harvard Law School and served as an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. He is the holder of 19 honorary degrees.

In 2003, in recognition of his outstanding career as a jurist and civil rights leader, Congress passed H.J. Res. 2 naming the Nathaniel R. Jones Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Youngstown, Ohio. In 2019, the University of Cincinnati College of Law renamed its Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice as the Judge Nathaniel R. Jones Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice (or the Jones Center), in his honor.

In May 2016, his memoir, Answering The Call: An Autobiography of the Modern Struggle to End Racial Discrimination in America, was published by The New Press. The book is described by its publishers as “an extraordinary eyewitness account from an unsung hero of the battle for racial equality in America.”

Judge Jones has received numerous awards and recognition for his tireless contributions to the civil rights movement and the legal industry, including:

  • The NAACP’s highest honor, the Spingarn Medal, 2016
  • The International Freedom Conductor Award from the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, 2016
  • The Federal Bar Association’s Pillar of Justice Award, 2014
  • The Nathaniel R. Jones American Inn of Court, chartered in Youngstown, Ohio, 2014.
  • The Children’s Defense Fund’s Changing the Odds Award, 2012
  • The Charles Hamilton Houston Medallion of Merit from the Washington Bar Association, 2011
  • Inducted into the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame, 2010
  • Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.’s Laurel Wreath Award, 2009
  • The American Lawyer’s Lifetime Achievement Award, 2007
  • The Just The Beginning Foundation’s Trailblazer Award, 2006
  • The Annual Fellows Award from the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division, 2005
  • The Award of Excellence from the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund, 2004
  • The Ohio Bar Medal Award from the Ohio State Bar Association, 2003
  • Inducted into the National Bar Association Hall of Fame, 2002
  • Named a “Great Living Cincinnatian,” 1997