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In her final year of law school, Elaine Jones was mulling a tempting $18,000-a-year job offer from New York’s Mudge Rose Guthrie & Alexander, where then-president Richard Nixon had been a partner. “That was huge money,” she recalls. Her sense of social justice was even huger. Law school hadn’t extinguished the healthy anger she developed growing up in the segregated South. She wanted to change the world, and, more than most lawyers, she would succeed in doing so. Bypassing Wall Street, Jones joined The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., in 1970. By 1993, she had become the first female president and director-counsel of the LDF. In her 30-plus years at the LDF, Jones notched some huge victories. In 1972, she was one of the attorneys who convinced the U.S. Supreme Court in Furman v. Georgia to eradicate the death penalty. The Court later reinstated it, but Jones also worked on cases to narrow its application. Jones also enjoyed success in Congress, helping win passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, a workplace discrimination law. “There is no better human being . . . than Elaine engaged around a principle of safeguarding the civil rights of people of color,”says Judith Lichtman, a senior adviser with the National Partnership for Women & Families. Jones took the LDF in new directions. Early on she recognized the disproportionate effect that the war on drugs created in minority communities, says Theodore Shaw, the current president of the LDF. Jones, for example, rallied to the defense of Kemba Smith, a young black Virginian who was sentenced to 24 years in prison for her minor role in a drug deal. After failing to win relief in the courts, Jones mounted a political campaign, persuading President Bill Clinton to pardon Smith in 2000. “Under [Jones's] leadership, we attacked the madness of the war on drugs,” Shaw says. Jones ended her LDF tenure on a high note. The organization represented parties and amici in companion Supreme Court cases that, in 2003, affirmed the right of universities to practice affirmative action. In early 2004 an exhausted Jones announced that she was leaving the LDF. But Jones, who says only that she is “over 50,” denies that she is retired. Up next? Securing political representation for the residents of her home, Washington, D.C. Back to Main Story

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