YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio –
Retired federal court judge, civil rights leader and Youngstown native Nathaniel R. Jones says that when it comes to race relations in this country we are moving backwards. He lived through the Jim Crow era and finds it frightening what is going on in the Supreme Court and the Justice Department.
Judge Nathaniel R. Jones said that the current state of race relations has been building since President Nixon.
“Tampering with the Supreme Court was very much a part of Nixon’s strategy,” he said. Judge Jones explained that the difference between then and now is that the opposite party was in control of the Senate and the Senate rejected Nixon’s initial nominees.
“But it was strictly driven by race because he felt the social programs that were in place and initiated were socialistic and he wanted to bring an end to them,” described Jones.
Jones said that President Donald Trump’s first act was to appoint Justice Neil Gorsuch to tilt the Supreme Court to the radical conservative side. He notes Attorney General Jeff Sessions has embarked on some rollback policies including a task force to examine the effects of affirmative action on white people.
“Unless there’s a change– we’re going to find that the means by which we advance the fortunes of minorities in this country, the means by which we eliminated institutional systemic discrimination will be ineffective and it will in effect nullify the Constitution, it will nullify the Civil Rights laws that were enacted to enforce the Constitution– the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law– and that is a great danger.”
In 1979, Jones was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit by President Carter.
As a civil rights leader who grew up during the Jim Crow era in Youngstown, he feels it is worse now than before the decision of Brown v. Board of Education that ended segregation in public schools.
“It’s worse because back at that time there was balance, there was balance in the discourse and in the debates and in the policy implementation. We have the separation of powers. The courts were key. The courts saw to it that the Constitution was respected.”
He stated that the racial divide was simmering underneath the surface when President Obama was elected.
“When they realized that an African American was occupying the office of President, the fringe groups mounted campaigns to disparage and to undercut what President Obama tried to do and that injected for the first time since the reaction to the Brown v. Board of Education decision, that introduced unvarnished racial hate and people didn’t hesitate to say that we have to take our country back.”
He said that the idea that more African Americans were achieving power and positions never held before created a lot of insecurity on the part of a number whites, which was stoked by people who said affirmative action was the cause.
“Preferential treatment for people of color was causing whites to lose their status and that was just simmering beneath the surface waiting for somebody like Trump to come along who could play on that and he did. He played on it by first declaring that President Obama was not an American, he was not born in this country.”
Judge Jones also addressed the violence in Charlottesville.
“The people are boldly proclaiming their fidelity to Nazism, anti-Semitism, giving the heil Hitler salute, marching with KKK flags and banners– that was unthinkable in the 50s and 60s that persons would do that but now they’re doing it and they feel they are acting consistently in concert with the wishes of the President.”
Regarding what needs to happen now, Jones said “Congress has to get a spine. They have to get some concrete in their spine. They know that what is being tried by the executive branch is wrong, is unconstitutional, is unsavory, but just a handful of them are speaking out.”
Judge Jones now lives in Cincinnati and was back in his hometown Monday night to support Youngstown Municipal Court Judge candidate Carla Baldwin.
If she wins in November, Baldwin would become the first African American woman elected to be a judge in the Mahoning Valley.