President of the NAACP Legal Defense
Elaine Jones graduated with honors in political science from Howard
University. After a period in the Peace Corps, she became the first
black woman to enroll in and graduate from the University of Virginia
School of Law.
Upon graduation, she joined the National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense and Education Fund where,
with the exception of two years (1975-77) as special assistant to
United States Secretary of Transportation William T. Coleman, Jr.,
she has remained.
In her early years at the fund, which was created in 1940 under
the leadership of the late Thurgood Marshall, Jones became one of
the first African American women to defend death row inmates. She
was counsel of record in Furman vs. Georgia, a landmark United States
Supreme Court case that abolished the death penalty in 37 states.
Her work has been instrumental in reshaping the federal judiciary
to include more people of color and more judges committed to equal
rights. She also played a key role in securing passage of legislative
milestones such as the Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1982, the
Fair Housing Act of 1988, the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988,
and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.
In 1989, Jones became the first African American elected to the
American Bar Association Board of Governors. Her term ended in 1992;
she continues to sit on the ABA's Council of Individual Rights and
She became president and defense counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense
and Education Fund in 1993, its first female leader.
She was honored with the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award by
President Bill Clinton in 2000 and was named one of 2001 Ebony
Magazine's “10 Most Powerful Black Women.”