Jones, Elaine Ruth

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

Page 38

A leading African?American attorney, Elaine Ruth Jones has devoted her career to the cause of CIVIL RIGHTS. Since 1993, she has served as director-counsel of the NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATIONAL FUND (LDF). Known for her eloquence and tenacity as well as for her creative approach to the cause of civil rights, Jones heads the LDF's 80-member staff while frequently speaking out on legal, social, and political issues.

When Jones was born on March 2, 1944, in Norfolk, Virginia, opportunities for blacks in her birthplace were limited. Her father was a Pullman porter who had been taught to read by her college-educated mother. Jones, her brother, and her parents felt the sting of being turned away from whites-only facilities. Yet the family believed in success through hard work and especially in education. Jones graduated third in her class from BOOKER T. WASHINGTON High School, in Norfolk, in 1961, and then attended Howard University, from which she graduated cum laude with a political science degree in 1965.

Jones served in the Peace Corps in Turkey between 1965 and 1967. She returned to the United States determined to pursue social change through the law. Particularly inspiring to her was the career of THURGOOD MARSHALL, founder of the LDF and later a U.S. Supreme Court justice. In 1970, she became the first black woman to graduate from the University of Virginia Law School. Jones's distinction in law school earned her a lucrative offer from the New York?based law firm of Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie, and Alexander, at that time the firm that represented President RICHARD M. NIXON. At the last minute, she chose not to accept the offer; she wanted to pursue Marshall's work.

Jones joined the LDF as an attorney. As the NAACP's litigation and public education arm, the LDF provides legal assistance to African Americans, and has brought more cases before the U.S. Supreme Court than any other legal body except the solicitor general's office. Assigned to death-penalty cases, Jones represented numerous black defendants in state and federal court. Only two years into her career, she worked on the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case FURMAN V. GEORGIA, 408 U.S. 238, 92 S. Ct. 2726, 33 L. Ed. 2d 346 (1972), in which the Court struck down death penalty statutes in 39 states after finding that the death penalty violated the CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENTS Clause of the EIGHTH AMENDMENT. The ruling held up...

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