BY MCKENZIE ZOBRIST
“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 Jones, July 2016 at the NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner at the Duke Energy Center when he received the Spingarn Medal
Those are the words of Judge Nathaniel Jones–a civil rights activist, lawyer, jurist, public servant, and close friend to anyone he got to know. On Sunday, January 26, Judge Jones passed away in his East Walnut Hills home due to congestive heart failure. He dedicated his 93 years to the service of others. While he has passed, his message remains.
On October 23, 2019, Judge Jones spoke at our NHS induction ceremony. NHS President and close family friend to Jones, Senior Sarah Werdmann, knew she wanted Judge Jones to speak as soon as she was assigned with the task to find a speaker for the event.
Werdmann said, “I wanted my speaker for NHS to be someone who could have a real impact on the students they would speak to, and I think Judge Jones was a great choice in that respect because he had so much wisdom to share. He’s been such a powerful influence in the Civil Rights movement, and he basically embodies everything I could ever want to be.”
Between his work in desegregating schools, helping end Apartheid in South Africa, assisting the United States attorney in Ohio as the first African American, and assisting with 1968 Kerner Commission seeking to figure out causes of racial unrest in the U.S. It is evident that many looked to Judge Jones’s wisdom–and still do.
Sarah Werdmann said, “He was known for many things, but the thing I admire most about him was the fact that he always stuck to his convictions.” Those convictions were for inclusion and justice.
Judge Jones began his career as a federal attorney. He was later appointed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1979. Werdmann’s mom, Laura Wilson, met Judge Jones when she interned for him. Following Wilson’s internship, they were in the same federal court building, working under a different District Court Judge.
In 2002, Judge Jones left the bench and moved to the same firm as Wilson, where they shared an office space, to do private practice with Blank Rome LLC.
Following his practice, the federal courthouse was named after him and his hometown. Other accomplishments include a Spingarn Medal from the NAACP as well multiple other buildings named in his honor: the Youngstown Federal Building, the U.S. Courthouse, and the University of Cincinnati Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice named in his honor.
A community visitation for Judge Nathaniel Jones will be held at 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, January 29 and 10 a.m. noon on Thursday, January 30 at Corinthian Baptist Church, 1920 Tennessee Ave., Bond Hill.