This week’s Pen is provided by Deaconness Gladys Myatt.
Looking inward at Shiloh’s women’s contributions to history, culture, and society during Women’s History Month, we commemorate Dr. Elaine R. Jones, Esq. Dr. Jones carved a path of ‘firsts’: the first African American to serve in Turkey as a Peace Corp volunteer teaching English; the first Black woman to graduate from the University of Virginia School of Law; after having served in the 1970’s with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), in 1993-2004 she became the first woman to be appointed its president and director-counsel; and she was the first African American to serve on the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association.
The LDF, which is a leading civil rights organization established in 1940 by Justice Thurgood Marshall, primarily focus on justice, civil and equal rights for Blacks, women, people of color and the poor. Dr. Jones also led the legislative advocacy arm of the LDF and she secured passage of extension of the Voting Rights Acts of 1982, Fair Housing Act of 1988, Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988, and Civil Rights Act of 1992 as well as judicial confirmations. She eventually expanded the LDF’s litigation into new areas such as health care and environmental justice.
Only two years out of law school, Dr. Jones fought the court’s decision of a Black man sentenced to death in Georgia for the death of a homeowner during the commission of a robbery. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty as it was then applied in 37 states as cruel and unusual punishment due to inadequate standards to guide judges and juries on which defendants would receive a sentence of death. A welcome outcome of victory in the death penalty case is that 600 lives, then on death row, were spared by that decision as a result of Dr. Jones and her co-counsels. She was one of the first African American women to defend death row inmates.
Dr. Jones argued employment discrimination cases, including class actions against some of the nation’s largest employers (e.g., American Tobacco Company, Monsanto and Pullman Standard) and won. She was fearless when she represented 2,500 Black male employees against Pullman Standard, the maker of railway cars. In her two-year tenure with the U.S. Department of Transportation, she assisted in writing policy that opened the Coast Guard to women.
Inspired by her parents, Dr. Jones knew from the age of eight that she wanted to be a lawyer and to commit her life to the pursuit of equal justice. A graduate of Howard University and LDF Director-Counsel Emeritus, Dr. Jones holds 16 honorary degrees. Of her numerous awards and recognitions, she received the Jefferson Medal of Freedom (the highest honor awarded by the University of Virginia); Ida B. Wells-Barnett Justice Award of the Metropolitan Bar Association in New York City; Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award in 2000 from President Bill Clinton; Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Chair’s Phoenix Award presented by the CBC Foundation; and was the first recipient of the Brennan Award of the DC Bar Association.
These are but a few of the litigations, policies, and changes in which Dr. Jones was involved and defended as a woman of direct action. She could have chosen to work for a prestigious firm on Wall Street, but instead she fought for us. We are reaping the benefits of her decision to fight for our rights and liberties and will be forever grateful. We salute and honor, Dr. Elaine R. Jones!