Judge Nathaniel Jones Answered the Call

Judge Nathaniel Jones Answered the Call

by Camri Nelson
Judge Nathaniel Jones speaking about his autobiography Photo: Camri Nelson

After serving 32 years as one of Ohio’s District Court Judges, Judge Nathaniel Jones recently published his book, Answering the Call, an autobiography that addresses the challenges to ending racial discrimination in the United States.

“What is the call, and what is the answer to that call?” Judge Jones asked a crowd during his speech at the Joseph-Beth Bookstore on May 26th.

He states that “the call” was a result of a meeting in New York on February 12th 1909 that convened to discuss the state of race relations in the country. At this meeting The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was formed.

“It became the principle engine that pulled together to address the problems that were identified in the call,” he said.

As the NAACP General Counsel, Judge Jones became a well-known civil rights activist and helped push reforms that helped better the lives of blacks in the United States and in South Africa. Because of his great work, many people urged him to write a book about his life and the efforts that he made to try to end racial discrimination. One of those people was the Dean of Law at the University of Cincinnati, Joseph Tomain.

When Dean Tomain had initially requested that Judge Jones turn in papers related to his civil rights work to the law school, he claimed that he didn’t have anything valuable to offer. However, one day after having a heated debate about government during a Good Samaritan board meeting, Judge Jones realized that he did have some valuable documents.

After returning home from the meeting, he went to his attic and found boxes, upon boxes full of documents. He then called Dean Tomain to tell him about the documents that he had discovered. To his surprise the dean had organized a black-tie dinner at a hotel to review the papers that he had turned over to the school. What surprised him most that night was the comment that the speaker, Nelson Mandela, said to him.

“He said, ‘You helped make this possible. At that moment I came to realize that the moralizing aspects of my life might be of some use,” he said.

The weeks following that event, he began looking for other authors to help him start on his book. Dean Tomain suggested that he meet with Roger Wilkins, nephew of Roy Wilkins, the head of the NAACP a few years back. When the judge proposed his idea of writing a book to Wilkins, he encouraged him to do it. He told him that the book must be written in his own words and not from somebody else.

When he returned home he was introduced to a local editor who began helping him work through the process of writing his story. They spent many hours recording him talk about his earlier parts of his life. The editor would ask him questions like “who are you”, “where are you from”, “who are your parents and where are they from?” Other questions were about his childhood and his neighborhood.

“By going back I was in a context that allowed me to relive and regurgitate things,” he said.

Audience at Joseph-Beth Bookstore Photo: Camri Nelson
Audience at Joseph-Beth Bookstore Photo: Camri Nelson

After they were done with recording they transcribed the tapes, created a manuscript and began editing. Judge Jones wanted to make sure that narrative was clear and rational. He wanted to make sure that he “spilled his guts” and didn’t leave any details out.

In the book he discusses a time when he stole a cupcake, when he was denied the right to organize an event for his fraternity and when he was discriminated against in college. He also talked about the discriminatory laws that were put in place during the 1960s such as segregated pools, movies, and roller skating rinks. He even discussed his relationship with lawyers that he met growing up and how they helped inspire him.

In July Judge Jones will receive the Spingarn Medal at the 2016 NAACP convention in Cincinnati, Ohio. This is a prestigious award that is given to an African American who has had outstanding achievements. Some of the few people who have previously received this award are George Washington Carver, Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, and Martin Luther King Jr.