Retired U.S. Sixth District Court of Appeals Judge Nathaniel R. Jones urged a local NAACP chapter to resist the modern movement to restrict voting rights.
The threat “is summed up in your theme for this occasion ... ‘Your Power, Your Decision — Vote,’” said Jones, a Youngstown native.
He was the keynote speaker at Friday’s 94th Freedom Fund Banquet of the Youngstown Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
A nationally known civil rights activist and leader who was general counsel of the national NAACP for 10 years, Jones said the new movement to restrict voting rights by requiring photo IDs and passing laws restricting early voting is a direct reaction to the election of President Barack Obama in 2008 — “an event many of us never thought we would live to see.”
Though some claimed it was proof the nation had moved to a post-racial phase, Jones disagreed.
He said one of the reasons he left the bench was to be free to speak his mind about what he described as “disturbing trends” developing in the U.S. Supreme Court decisions after the appointment of justices “who hold a soft spot for states’ rights.”
It was states’ rights doctrine that fostered and maintained America’s segregated institutions and protected individuals and groups who intimidated and violated blacks, he said.
“The antidote for that is for the NAACP to intensify the fight it has waged ever since 1909 for the unfettered right to vote,” he said.
The right to vote, which people fought and died to achieve, is at the root of the power of black Americans, minorities and women to effect change, and that is why it is being attacked so vociferously, he said.
Progress in education and housing and affirmative action occurred because people were gaining political power through voting, he added.
Speaking before the banquet, Jones, who was educated in Youngstown public schools and at Youngstown State University, opined that the support of education vouchers and charter or private schools, along with the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider whether to limit or eliminate affirmative action are also attacks on the social progress of blacks and other minorities.
The Freedom Fund Banquet is the major fundraiser for the Youngstown NAACP chapter located at 16 Wick Ave.
Among the 500-member chapter’s activities are voter registration, partnership with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in preparing people to file workplace-discrimination complaints, and maintaining a relationship with employers to try to match minorities with jobs available, said Steven E. Mickel, president of the local organization.
The federal courthouse facing Wick Avenue in downtown Youngstown is named in honor of Jones.