2. Elaine Jones ’70
Leading the NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Elaine Jones ’70, the first black female graduate of the Law School, was director-counsel and president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund from 1993-2004 — the first woman to rise to the highest leadership role within the organization.
During that period, two cases in which the fund was involved — Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger — had ascended to the Supreme Court together, testing affirmative action. In 2003, the court agreed in these cases that race could be considered in granting opportunity.
“We wouldn’t have diversity in business or anywhere if we had lost,” Jones told UVA Lawyer last year.
Jones previously ran the Washington, D.C., office of the Legal Defense Fund for 14 years, litigating class-action cases as she engaged in legislative activity. (During that time, she also became the first black person named to the board of governors of the American Bar Association.)
Her D.C. service reshaped the federal judiciary and played key roles in securing passage of 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 addition, her efforts to certify the record in Furman v. Georgia and working on subsequent criminal cases helped save the lives of many on death row. Civil cases she was involved in fought discrimination, including disparate pay and promotion as addressed in Patterson v. American Tobacco. In total, her active service to the organization spanned 34 years.
Jones took a leave of absence during her time at the fund to serve as special assistant to the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, where she helped institute the new policy of women in the Coast Guard serving at sea.