RIP: Louis Clayton Jones

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Louis Clayton Jones, a founder of the National Conference of Black Lawyers and a high-profile New York lawyer for most of his full-time professional life, died of cancer at home on Monday Jan. 9, 2006.

Seventy years old, he was a younger brother of the highly regarded Rev. Dr. William A. Jones, Jr., who retired last year after 43 years as pastor of Brooklyn’s Bethany Baptist Church.    

Louis Clayton Jones was a native of Kentucky, where he attended racially segregated elementary and high schools in Lexington. He was the son of the late Mary Elizabeth Jones and the Rev. Dr. William A. Jones, Sr., the late 28-year pastor of Lexington’s Pleasant Green Baptist Church, founded in 1790 by slaves. Louis Clayton Jones’s experiences in his home state informed his activism and professional conduct throughout his adult years.

In the mid-1980s, Mr. Jones played a prominent role as counsel to the family of Michael Stewart, a 25-year-old Brooklyn man arrested for scrawling graffiti in a subway station at First Avenue and 14th Street in Manhattan. Mr. Stewart lapsed into a coma in the early morning hours of Sept. 15, 1983. Bruised and hogtied, he was taken to Bellevue Hospital Center, where he died without regaining consciousness. In 1985, the six transit police officers charged in the death were acquitted of all charges before an emotional crowd in State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

The decision by a jury of four men and eight women brought to an end the five-month trial of what the New York Times that year called “one of the most complex and highly publicized police brutality cases in New York City's history.� Presiding Justice Jeffrey M. Atlas, whose rulings Mr. Jones publicly critiqued, told the New York Times after the trial, “From a lawyer's point of view, it's impossible to believe there could be a more fascinating case.� But the death and acquittal sparked charges of racism and brutality from Mr. Stewart’s family, who maintained that the officers, who are white, had beaten Mr. Stewart, a Black artist and model. The incident later stirred protests by Black activists and others who contended that city officials had engaged in a cover-up for the transit police. Mr. Jones represented the Stewart family in a pair of civil suits — one against the transit police and the six officers, and another against the city's Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Elliot M. Gross.

After the acquittals in the criminal case, Mr. Jones declared to reporters outside the courthouse: “What we have witnessed has been a farce. And all the players happened to be white. The six defendants, the six defense lawyers, the two prosecutors, the 12 jurors, the judge — and even every court officer in the well of the courtroom was white. The only Black person there was the victim, and he was unable to testify, unfortunately.''

As a result of the Stewart actions, new attention was focused on how police officers handle people in their custody.

A former law partner with David Dinkins, Mr. Jones sometimes criticized Black public officials, too. In a 1986 letter published in the New York Times, he chastised former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young for the ex-U.N. Ambassador’s letter to Bishop Desmond Tutu (Op-Ed, July 27) in support of the Administration’s approach to economic sanctions against South Africa. Writing from his office in Paris, Mr. Jones wrote:
“Mr. Young's gratuitous advice is even more ‘nauseating’ than the Reagan Doctrine because it comes from a source who wears his moral authority on his sleeve while, at the same time, serving the interests of multinational corporations and the South African regime.� Mr. Jones went on: “What is even more disturbing is the forum chosen for his unsolicited advice. In the unlikely event that Mr. Young were sincere in his views, he would have communicated them to the Bishop in person or in a confidential memorandum. To reiterate, in a public forum, his opposition to the demands of the most moderate liberation spokesman in South Africa, at this late date, is to affirm his moral bankruptcy and, worse still, to undermine the lonely and valiant struggle of the progressive forces for freedom in that part of the world.�

Mr. Jones was awarded a full academic scholarship by Howard University in Washington, D.C., from which he graduated summa cum laude in 1957 with majors in Philosophy and French. In 1956, he was inducted into the membership of Phi Beta Kappa and in 1957 was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship for study in France at the Sorbonne and the University of Bordeaux, where he studied political science and French literature. In 1958 he received a John Hay Whitney Fellowship and was accepted for admission by Harvard Law School and Yale Law School.  

Mr. Jones graduated from Yale Law School in 1961. He was admitted to the bars of the states of Kentucky and New York. Upon returning to his home state in 1961, Mr. Jones was asked to serve as Assistant Director of  the newly formed Kentucky Commission on Human Rights and was responsible for drafting that commission’s Complaint and Compliance Procedures. After addressing an NAACP meeting in the Court House at Murray, Ky., and learning from Gov. Bert Combs that he would be arrested if he “ever set foot in Murray again,â€? Mr. Jones recalled in his third-person autobiographical sketch published five years ago, he “removed himself from the jurisdiction of his home state to seek his fortune in the more hospitable environs of the city of New York,â€? where he practiced law from 1962 to 1986. 

In 1981, Mr. Jones was invited by the Minister of Justice of the Republic of Liberia to assist the new government in retrieving monies that allegedly had been illegally deposited in private offshore accounts. Shortly after completing that assignment, he was asked to go to Liberia as a consultant to the Attorney General. Mr. Jones arranged, at that point, to transfer his major clients to the firm of Lewis and Clarkson at 99 Wall Street, where Reginald Lewis, his friend and colleague, was the senior partner. While in Liberia, Mr. Jones established a number of private businesses for a wealthy Saudi client. One year later, Mr. Jones returned to the United States and to the full-time practice of law, after, he wrote five years ago, “observing the influence of the CIA in the affairs of the ‘Republic’ of  Liberia, the assassinations of the most progressive members of the government, and the flight of those who were fortunate enough to escape the firing squads.â€? 

At the end of 1985, Mr. Jones was asked to become Director of Legal and Financial Affairs for the First Investment Capital Corporation, a Paris-based subsidiary of Al-Anwae Trading Company of Saudi Arabia. While in in Paris, Mr. Jones was introduced to
Charles Haimoff, CEO of Horphag Overseas, Ltd., the international distributor of the world’s most powerful and effective anti-oxidant, Pycnogenol. In 1988 Mr. Jones purchased the exclusive right to distribute Pycnogenol in North America. 

After establishing Pycnogenol as the standard of the anti-oxidant industry in America, Mr. Jones retired from his company and from the practice of law. Since the early 1990s, he had devoted all of his time to the goals enunciated in the pages of a quarterly journal he edited for several years, The African Century.

From Atlanta, he established and published the Cyber-Drum, an Internet Web site that included daily coverage of and commentary on the most important events affecting African and Developing World people.

Mr. Jones is survived by his wife of 28 years, Barbara Ann Jones of Atlanta; four brothers: the Rev. William A. Jones, Jr., of New York City, the Rev. LaMont Jones, Sr., of Lexington, Ky., the Rev. Henry Wise Jones of Atlanta, and Byron Timothy Jones of Frankfort, Ky.; two sisters: Phyllis Jones Meade and Sylvia Jones Harris, both of Atlanta; and numerous siblings in-law, nephews, and nieces. 

Funeral services are scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday, January 13, 2006, at the Wheat Street Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Mr. Jones was a member and his brother-in-law, the Rev. Dr. Michael N. Harris, is pastor.   A graveside burial service will be held on Saturday, January 14, at 11 a.m. at Lexington Cemetery in Lexington, Ky., a landmark integrated by Mr. Jones’s father after his death in 1968.

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