LDF Mourns the Loss of Jetta Jones, Attorney and Longtime Board Member

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) mourns the passing of Ms. Jetta Jones, beloved mother and grandmother, and longtime LDF Board member, who passed away peacefully on April 9, 2021, in her daughter Courtney Moore’s home in Pasadena, California. She was 95 years old. 

Born in Philadelphia on February 24, 1926, Ms. Jones’ father was a prominent lawyer and among the earliest African American graduates of Yale Law School. Ms. Jones studied political science at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and graduated from Yale before moving to Chicago to work as an attorney. In 1953, she met her husband, James Jones and the two later moved to Hyde Park. Mr. Jones was a doctor of obstetrics and gynecology at Cook County Hospital, and then at the University of Chicago.

As an attorney, Ms. Jones reviewed capital punishment cases and worked closely with LDF. She joined the Board of Directors in 1976 and was an active member for 21 years, overlapping the tenures of four of LDF’s seven Director-Counsels, including Jack Greenberg, Julius Chambers, Elaine Jones, and Ted Shaw. In 1997, she became a Senior Board Member and remained active in that capacity until her passing – overlapping two more Director-Counsels: John Payton and Sherrilyn Ifill.

“Our hearts go out to Ms. Jones’ friends and family. She was a civic leader to her core, always working to improve her communities and the lives of those living in them,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF’s President and Director-Counsel. “That commitment extended to LDF and her decades-long leadership as an integral member of our Board of Directors during the tenure of every Director-Counsel after our founder, Thurgood Marshall. Her contributions were instrumental to the work of LDF, including helping us develop strong connections in the Midwest. She brought her knowledge and passion as an attorney to her Board service and was an integral part of LDF for 45 years.”

“Ms. Jones was connected, smart, polished, and completely committed to LDF’s success,” said Elaine Jones, LDF’s Director-Counsel from 1993-2004. “She knew LDF well and did her level best to help us. As a lawyer, she understood and related to the issues we work on, and she was particularly immersed in our death penalty work. Through her time on the Board, she continued to make LDF visible in her corner of the world. She cared about LDF and it showed.”

Ms. Jones was active in the political world while in Chicago, working with several Aldermen before joining Mayor Harold Washington’s administration as Director of External Relations. In this role, she served as a liaison between city government and civil society groups. She also worked as the chair of the Joint Human Relations Council for the city of Chicago.

Ms. Moore said her mother’s natural networking capabilities served her well in Mayor Washington cabinet: “She knew everybody. One of her passions was connecting people, especially young professionals.” 

Ms. Jones and her husband, James, also loved books and participated in the University of Chicago’s Great Books Study Group for many years. Ms. Jones served on the Women’s Boards of the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, and as a trustee of Northfield Mount Hermon Academy. She was also a founding member of the Women’s Foundation of Chicago. Ms. Jones worked toward building community through the Hyde Park Co-op, the Hyde Park Development Corporation, the Executive Service Corps, and as a Board member of the Lincoln Park Zoological Society and Chicago’s public television station. 

“She was really an intellectual. She loved learning, and they loved, loved sharing that experience.” Ms. Moore said. “They met a lot of individuals in that class they would necessarily come across anywhere else.”

An avid reader of local political commentators and writers, including Mike Royko, Studs Terkel, and Vernon Jarret, Ms. Jones loved entertaining guests in her Kenwood home and maintained a wide social circle of Chicago artists, politicians, and lawyers. A student of African and African American history and contemporary art, Ms. Jones was a Board member of the Art Institute of Chicago and an active supporter of Chicago’s DuSable Museum and Museum of Contemporary Art. She was also a Board member of the Mount Holyoke College Museum of Art. She collected African American art and donated several pieces to the Art Institute of Chicago.

In her free time, Ms. Jones enjoyed swimming, playing tennis, and dancing with her husband. Ms. Jones also enjoyed travelling and took trips all over the world. 

Ms. Moore fondly recalls a trip she took with her mother to London, where the two saw 12 Shakespeare plays in different theaters.

“My mother always had a definite grace about her, a definite class. She was easy to know and even though she was very much an intellectual, she invited you into her intellect, and found ways in which she could communicate.”

Ms. Jones is survived by her children, Courtney Jones Moore, Josh Christian Jones, and Julie Jones Simms; her grandson, Jeremy Simms and wife, Dorothee; her great-grandchildren Lennox and Nadia Simms; her step-grandsons, Christian and Payton Moore; and her nephews, John McDaniel and James Austin Norris.