On Aug. 18, we hosted a webinar with a very special guest speaker, Elaine Jones, a true hero of the civil rights movement who has done extensive work in expanding the right to vote to all Americans. Together, we discussed women’s leadership and civil rights in honor of the 100th anniversary since Tennessee became the final state to ratify the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote in the United States.
In case you missed the live event, you can still watch this extraordinary discussion.
Elaine is a trailblazer. She was the first African-American woman to enroll and graduate from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1970 and later to be elected to serve on the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association. In keeping with her pioneering course of life events, she was among the first three African-Americans to serve in the Peace Corps in Turkey, and after joining the Legal Defense Fund, she became the first woman to be appointed president and director-counsel of the LDF in 1993.
The LDF—a national civil rights law firm established by Justice Thurgood Marshall in 1940—spent a lot of time and resources on the initial adoption of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and has been involved in every Supreme Court case interpreting it since that time. In her role at director-counsel, Elaine expanded LDF’s litigation into new areas such as health care and environmental justice, while keeping the organization focused on its core work in education, voting rights, economic access and criminal justice.
When asked about people that have impacted her career and life, she did not share a list of prominent, notable influencers, rather, she reflected on those she served at the LDF, “our brave and mistreated clients who endured hardship and ostracism in allowing LDF to represent them as they sought ‘equal justice’ under the law. These clients range from death row inmates to employees in class action lawsuits seeking pay equity, nondiscriminatory hiring, promotion and training opportunities for both women and minorities, as well as age discrimination, school desegregation, health care, environmental justice and voting rights.”
“LDF represented John Lewis and the Freedom Riders: those who sat-in at the lunch counters, bus stations and other places. And, we represented those students who initially desegregated public colleges and universities,” says Elaine. “Ever since our founding, securing and protecting voting rights has been a staple on our docket. Also, criminal justice issues have been, and continue to be, a litigation area. LDF also plays an important role in the public policy arena for civil rights and social justice legislation.”
In 2004, after 34 years of service, Elaine retired from the LDF.
Elaine is the recipient of numerous awards and accolades. She has received over 300 honors of various types, 16 honorary degrees as well as UVA’s highest honor, the Jefferson Medal in Law. She was presented with the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award from President Clinton, and during President Obama’s second term, she received the Phoenix Award from the Congressional Black Caucus.
We thoroughly enjoyed our talk with Elaine and hearing about her civil rights work and inspirational messages. One message was about the importance of educating oneself about both past and current events. In that spirit, here are some resources to learn more about the 100th anniversary of women obtaining the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th amendment: