A statue of federal judge and civil rights activist Nathaniel Jones, a Youngstown native, will be unveiled at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati on Friday.

Judge Jones was born in Youngstown, where the second federal courthouse is named in his honor. He served more than two decades on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, where he served until his retirement in 2002. 

A few days after Jones passed away in January 2020, his friends John Pepper and Michael Cioffi expressed a wish to commission a sculpture to be on permanent display in the Grand Hall of the Freedom Center.

 They approached National Underground Railroad Freedom Center President and COO, Woodrow Keown, Jr., who agreed.

This sculpture and its prominent location in the Grand Hall of the Freedom Center will commemorate Judge Jones’ life and the enormous contributions he made to the creation and development of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center,” said Keown Jr. “ His legacy will inspire future generations to continue his relentless pursuit of freedom and justice worldwide until the walls that once deprived so many of justice will no longer be a barrier to equity, access, and inclusiveness.”

 Jones was a founding board member and a recipient of the Freedom Center’s International Freedom Conductor Award.

 “This is a wonderful way to honor my father, who was a man of integrity, dedicating his career to protecting human rights,” the Judge’s daughter, Stephanie Jones said. “He was a fierce advocate for equality, standing up for what was right, giving a voice to the disadvantaged and marginalized.”

 Cincinnati sculptor John Hebenstreit was selected to create the statue.

The program to unveil and dedicate the statue will feature remarks from close friends, dignitaries and people who knew him best, including Eric Holder, the former attorney general of the United States, and a video tribute from former President Bill Clinton.

Judge Jones taught at several law schools throughout the country, including Harvard Law School and was an adjunct professor at University of Cincinnati College of Law.

 In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Jones Assistant General Counsel of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, also known as the Kerner Commission. In 1969, Jones was appointed general counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a position previously held by Thurgood Marshall.

 In 1979, President Jimmy Carter nominated Jones to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. After retiring from the bench in 2002, Judge Jones joined the law firm Blank Rome, where he served as Senior Counsel and Chief Diversity Officer until his death.

 Judge Jones helped abolish apartheid in South Africa and assisted in drafting its new constitution, conferring with Nelson Mandela and others.

In 2016, the NAACP selected Judge Jones as a recipient of its highest honor, the Spingarn Medal. Earlier that year, Judge Jones published his memoir, “Answering the Call: An Autobiography of the Modern Struggle to End Racial Discrimination in America,” published by The New Press.