Judge Nate Jones wins first Simeon Booker Award for Courage

By William K. Alcorn



Youngstown native Judge Nathaniel R. Jones says any courage he demonstrated during his career was inspired by another Youngstown son, journalist Simeon Booker.

Too ill to attend his award ceremony Wednesday at the DeYor Performing Arts Center, Judge Jones spoke via Skype to an audience of about 300, including Booker, to accept the first Simeon Booker Award for Courage and praised Booker for his nonviolent approach.

“With a camera around his neck and a reporter’s notebook, he put the spotlight on injustices in society. He moved mountains and was able to influence policies,” Judge Jones said of Booker.

The Booker award was created as part of the sixth annual Ohio Nonviolence Week, a five-day celebration sponsored by John and Denise DeBartolo York and the DeBartolo Corp. Proceeds from the event will go to establish the Simeon Booker Scholarship.

Booker, 98, living in Washington, D.C., is credited with galvanizing the American civil-rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s.

Judge Jones, who said he had every intention of attending the ceremony because he wanted to honor Booker, said there is still work to be done.

“Denying people the right to vote and injustices in the criminal justice system are forms of violence we need to correct,” he said.

A retired U.S. Circuit Court judge and general counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Judge Jones was born May 13, 1926, in Youngstown, graduated from South High School, served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, and earned a bachelor’s degree from Youngstown College (now Youngstown State University) in 1951 and a law degree from Youngstown University law school in 1956.

Courage was the theme of the night, and keynote speaker was Jerry Mitchell, investigator reporter with the Clarion Ledger in Jackson, Miss., who helped put four Klu Klux Klan members behind bars.

“I am humbled and honored to be here to honor Judge Jones and Booker, who has brought honor to our profession,” Mitchell said.

Hate has never gone away, said Mitchell, who has helped put 24 people connected with unsolved civil rights-era murders in jail.

“I’ve had many death threats that have produced a surprise gift ... living fearlessly. I don’t mean living without fear, but living beyond fear ... living for things beyond ourselves,” he said.

What drives him, he said, is the injustice and nothing being done about it, especially murder.

“Guys were getting away with it and everybody knew it,” he said.

“Someone asked me why I didn’t leave those old guys alone. My answer is they were young murderers who got old,” said Mitchell, who has won more than 20 national reporting awards.

Micah Smith of Youngs-town, a student at Youngs-town State University, introduced Mitchell.

“I feel like Jerry brought truth to Youngstown, Ohio, tonight. He had the courage to reopen cases and put people away,” she said.

Cheryl McArthur of Liberty added: “I learned about history of the civil-rights movement and the need for the continuing to fight for civil and human rights and respect for other people.”

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