Jones, who was appointed the LDF director in 1993, is credited with broadening the organization's mission to include environmental and health care issues. The fourth director-counsel in the fund's 60-year history, she is also the first woman to hold the position. The LDF was founded by Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first black Supreme Court justice.
"We are absolutely thrilled to have Elaine Jones speaking to our graduates," said Law School Dean John Garvey. "It's a chance to teach one last lesson before our new alumni walk out the door. She is the kind of lawyer we would like them to become. Her work at the Legal Defense Fund, her advocacy efforts on behalf of civil rights, her service on the American Bar Association Board of Governors - any one of these would be enough for one career."
In 1970, Jones became the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Virginia School of Law. Invited to join a prestigious Wall Street firm, she instead joined the staff of the LDF, which no longer is formally connected with the NAACP but has long been one of the key players in the civil rights movement.
Elaine R. Jones
Jones first rose to prominence by working on capital punishment cases throughout the South, often under threats from the Ku Klux Klan. She was the counsel of record in the 1972 Supreme Court case Furman v Georgia that abolished the death penalty in 37 states.
After a two-year stint as special assistant to US Secretary of Transportation William Coleman Jr., Jones returned to the LDF in 1977 and continued building a reputation as a skillful negotiator and an advocate for those suffering from social, political and economic discrimination. She is regarded as a major contributor to the reshaping of the federal judiciary to include more people of color and more judges attuned to the importance of civil rights.
In 1989, Jones became the first African American elected to the ABA Board of Governors, and sits on the ABA's Council on Individual Rights and Responsibilities.
Among her publications, Jones wrote the foreword for the 1997 book Dismantling Desegregation: The Quiet Reversal of Brown v Board of Education.
- Law School Communications Manager Nathaniel Kenyon contributed to this story .
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