The American Bar Association has announced that Elaine R. Jones, former President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), will receive the organization’s 2011 Thurgood Marshall Award Saturday.
The Award, honoring the late Supreme Court Justice and LDF founder, will be given during a gala dinner of the association’s annual conference now underway in Toronto, Canada. It honors a recipient’s “substantial, long-term contributions to the advancement of civil rights, civil liberties and human rights in the United States.”
Jones’ record as an advocate both in and outside the courtroom more than qualifies her. Indeed, she made an outsized impact at LDF and in furthering the cause of racial and social justice at the very beginning of her legal career. Joining LDF shortly after graduating from the University of Virginia Law School (as its first black female graduate), she was the counsel of record in Furman v Georgia, the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court case that abolished the death penalty in 37 states. As an LDF staff attorney, as director of its Washington office, and as President and Director-Counsel, Jones became a model of a committed fighter for justice.
The Marshall Award was established in 1992 by the Bar Association’s Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities (IR&R), whose purpose is to ensure that safeguarding the law’s responsiveness to basic civil and human rights remains a central concern of the 400,000-member ABA.
Jones is a longtime ABA member, and served on the council of the IR&R. In 1988 she became the first African American on the Bar’s Board of Governors. The 38-member board is the organization’s governing body.
Jones will be the fourth former President and Director-Counsel to receive this signal honor. Marshall was its inaugural recipient. His successor, Jack Greenberg, and Greenberg’s successor, Julius L. Chambers, received the Award in 1996 and 2006, respectively. In addition, Oliver W. Hill, the legendary civil rights attorney (and law school classmate of Justice Marshall), who worked with Marshall and LDF on many cases, was honored in 1994.