Elaine R. Jones
Elaine R. Jones is the fourth President and Director-Counsel, Emeritus of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), the nation's oldest law firm fighting for equal rights and justice for people of color, women, and the poor. When Ms. Jones took the helm of the Legal Defense Fund in 1993, she became the first woman to head the organization. She brought with her vast experience as a litigator and civil rights activist, as well as a passion for fairness and equality that dates back to her childhood.
Born in Norfolk, Virginia, Ms. Jones learned about the realities of racism and the importance of idealism from her mother, a public school teacher, and her father, a Pullman porter and a member of the nation's first black trade union. From the age of eight, she knew she wanted to be a lawyer and to commit her life to the pursuit of equal justice.
After graduating with honors in political science from Howard University, Ms. Jones joined the Peace Corps and became one of the first African Americans to serve in Turkey. This began a long series of "firsts" in her career. Following her two-year Peace Corps stint, she became the first black woman to graduate from the University of Virginia School of Law, and subsequently the first African American to serve on the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association.
Ms. Jones was invited to join one of Wall Street's most prestigious firms after her graduation. She turned it down to pursue the goal she had chosen in her youth and instead joined the Legal Defense Fund's staff. With the exception of two years as Special Assistant to the United States Secretary of Transportation, she remained with LDF for over thirty years.
In her early years at LDF, Ms. Jones continued to blaze trails, becoming one of the first African American women to defend death row inmates. Only two years out of law school, she was a member of the legal team in Furman v. Georgia, a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that abolished the death penalty in 37 states for 12 years. During this period, she was also trial counsel and argued numerous employment discrimination cases, including class actions against some of the nation's largest employers (e.g., Patterson v. American Tobacco Co., Stallworth v. Monsanto, and Swint v. Pullman Standard). She has also been trial counsel in several death penalty cases.
Ms. Jones holds fifteen honorary degrees and the Jefferson Medal of Freedom, the highest honor awarded by the University of Virginia. She also has received the recognition of many organizations, including the Secretary's Award of the Department of Transportation, first recipient of the Brennan Award of the DC Bar Association, Mickey Leland Public Service Award of the Congressional Black Caucus, Brennan Legacy Award of the Brennan Center, American Lawyer Lifetime Achievement Award, People for the American Way's 2001 Democracy Award and The American Bar Association's Commission on Women in the Profession (Margaret Brent Award). She was recently inducted into the Trial Lawyer's Hall of Fame.
In July 2010 she received the Public Service Award from the National Association of Women Lawyers. In the Spring of 2010 Ms. Jones was inducted into the Washington Bar Association Hall of Fame. In 2009 she has received awards from the New York Bar Association (advocacy award) and the highest honor from the Old Dominion Bar association (Virginia, Douglas Wilder Award). In December 2000, President William Jefferson Clinton presented her with the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award.
After a 32-year tenure with LDF, Ms. Jones stepped down on May 1, 2004. Since that time, she has been lecturing, writing, teaching and publicly speaking on legal and related policy issues.