Judge Nathaniel R. Jones to be honored Oct. 5 in downtown Youngstown


Ask Judge Nathaniel R. Jones for a pivotal life moment from his 90 years, and the Youngstown son shares enough events to fill several lifetimes.

He shares them with a precision and cadence that makes you feel you are walking with him.

It’s been an emotional journey.

As a 12-year-old in the 1930s, he learned his church elders were meeting to remove the pastor. Without telling his parents, he walked to the church that day and sat in the front row for the meeting. He eventually took the floor and chastised the elders for their embarrassing display.

As a Youngstown teen in America’s Jim Crow era of the 1940s, he went to swim at whites-only pools knowing he’d be attacked for trying to violate the city’s segregation policies.

As a student at Youngstown College after World War II, he and a white friend demanded a meeting with the campus president, Howard Jones, over the exclusion of black students from some student activities. They discovered the practice by comparing each other’s activity tickets: There were more events for the white friend.

Caught a bit off guard, the president promised the matter would be addressed. The following fall, the student activities tickets were equal for black and white students.

At the height of South African apartheid segregation in the 1980s, Jones was there as part of an international team trying to ensure fair criminal proceedings for blacks being tried for treason and terrorism in the segregated country.

While there, he met four grieving widows at a cemetery. They could not believe the black man before them was a judge. They asked what he could do about their husbands’ deaths.

He said he could do nothing for them legally. Instead, he told them a story; it was the story of America – slavery, the Civil War, freedom, segregation, protests, court fights, etc. He closed it with this promise to them:

“You, too, will have your freedom. I can’t tell you when. But as it happened in America, it will happen here.”

Such life moments are captured in Jones’ autobiography, “Answering The Call,” released this spring.

In July, his life’s accomplishments earned him the same honor as Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King Jr., Oprah Winfrey and Alex Haley when he was presented the Spingarn Medal by the national NAACP.

Those life moments will come back home to Youngstown on Oct. 5 when he will be honored with the inaugural Simeon Booker Award for Courage.

This is the first year for the award, 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.

The event will be at 7 p.m. at DeYor Performing Arts Center, 260 W. Federal St.

For the complete story, read Sunday's Vindicator and Vindy.com

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