National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Presented the 2016 International Freedom Conductor Award to Nathaniel Jones

Press Release

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Presented the
2016 International Freedom Conductor Award to Nathaniel Jones


Jamie Glavic
(513) 333-7511
(513) 802-7355

Assia Johnson
(513) 333-7555
(513) 787-2110


CINCINNATI (May 31, 2016)— On May 6the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center presented the Honorable Nathaniel R. Jones with the 2016 International Freedom Conductor Award (IFCA) at a private reception honoring his life and accomplishments. Jones, a retired United States Circuit Court Judge and General Counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), is an internationally lauded civil rights and social justice legal pioneer.

The IFCA is awarded by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and was last awarded in August 2014. It was created to recognize the contributions of contemporary individuals who, by their actions and personal examples, reflect the spirit and courageous actions of conductors on the historic Underground Railroad. Award recipients reflect positive impact on contemporary freedom issues. Previous recipients of the IFCA are Rosa Parks (1998), Archbishop Desmond Tutu (2000), Dr. Dorothy Height and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights (2003), US Presidents George H.W. Bush and William J. Clinton (2007), and His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama (2010), Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth (2013), Nicholas Kristof (2013), Lech Walesa (2014) and Nelson Mandela (2014). Jones is the first Cincinnatian to receive the IFCA.

Jones was born in Youngstown, OH in 1926. After service in the United States Air Force in World War II, he attended Youngstown State University, receiving his A.B. and L.L.B. (converted to J.D.). After one year of private practice, Attorney General Robert Kennedy appointed him as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio at Cleveland. He held that position until being appointed to serve as Assistant General Counsel to President's Johnson's National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. In 1969 Roy Wilkins, executive director of the NAACP, invited Jones to assume the responsibility as general counsel of the NAACP. For the next ten years, he argued several cases before the United States Supreme Court and led national efforts to end school segregation and to defend affirmative action. Jones investigated discrimination in the armed forces and successfully coordinated the NAACP’s First Amendment defense in the Mississippi Boycott Case. Jones was nominated by President Carter to the United States Court of Appeals in 1979 to which he became Senior Judge. He retired from the bench in 2002.

Jones, now senior counsel at Blank Rome law firm in Cincinnati, has published widely and built a distinguished community record. He taught law at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, North Carolina Central University College of Law and Harvard University Law School. Jones is a member of more than two dozen civic and community organizations, including the Board of Directors of KnowledgeWorks Foundation, the Board of Trustees of the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, the Marvin Lewis Community Fund, the Metropolitan Club, the Advisory Board of Soteni International, and the Advisory Board of the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights. He serves as a member of the Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America, Inc. Diversity Advisory Board, and is honorary co-chair and board member of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

Jones has received numerous awards throughout his career as a public servant, including the Children’s Defense Fund’s Changing the Odds Award in 2012, the Charles Hamilton Houston Medallion of Merit from the Washington Bar Association in 2011, induction into the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2010, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.’s Laurel Wreath Award in 2009, The American Lawyer’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007, the Just The Beginning Foundation’s Trailblazer Award in 2006, the Annual Fellows Award from the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division in 2005, the Award of Excellence from the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund in 2004, the Ohio Bar Medal Award from the Ohio State Bar Association in 2003, and he was inducted into the National Bar Association Hall of Fame in 2002. He was named a "Great Living Cincinnatian" in 1997.

“Judge Jones is the epitome of a freedom conductor,” says Dr. Clarence G. Newsome, president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. “He has not only championed equality, justice and freedom throughout his career – he’s lived it, overcoming great adversity in his own lifetime. His life’s work has strengthened the path of progress and impacted generations of people, at home and around the globe. No one’s life and career better expresses the principles which this award celebrates than Judge Jones. It is a privilege to present it to him at the Freedom Center.”

“Nate’s a man who has undoubtedly changed the world we live in,” says John Pepper, honorary co-chair of the board of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. “His great compassion and legacy continues to have a positive impact in communities across the country, creating a positive ripple effect of activism—one that is inspiring and energizing an emerging generation of civil rights leaders.”

To learn more about the International Freedom Conductor Award (IFCA) and past recipients, visit



The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center opened in August 2004 on the banks of the Ohio River in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. Since then, more than 1.3 million people have visited its permanent and changing exhibits and public programs, inspiring everyone to take courageous steps for freedom. Two million people have utilized educational resources online at, working to connect the lessons of the Underground Railroad to inform and inspire today’s global and local fight for freedom. Partnerships include Historians Against Slavery, Polaris Project, Free the Slaves, US Department of State and International Justice Mission. In 2014, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center launched a new online resource in the fight against modern slavery,

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