Thomas R. Jones (judge)

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Thomas Russell Jones Jr. (5 August 1913 - 27 October 2006) was an African-American member of the New York State Assembly, Justice of the New York Supreme Court, and leading civil rights activist for black Americans in slums of northern cities.

Jones was born in Brooklyn, New York City to Thomas Sr. and Mabel Ward Jones, immigrants from Barbados. Jones received his undergraduate and law degrees from St. Johns University, and was admitted to the Bar Association in 1938. He worked as an activist in anti-fascism and in 1941 enlisted in the US Army. As a first lieutenant he participated in the Normandy invasion in 1944. As an educated lawyer, he acted as a judge in a martial court in Belgium. Upon returning to New York, Jones became chief council for the local NAACP branch, mainly involved in cases of police brutality. In 1962, Jones, a Democrat was elected to state assembly. In 1964, he was elected civil court judge; in 1967 he was elected to state supreme court[1] (note that in New York, the supreme court is not the highest jurisdiction appellate court).

In 1955, Jones defended three Chinese immigrant workers who had been convicted and sentenced to prison for sedition for "helping Communist China" because they had been sending money home to relatives there. The United States Supreme Court declined to hear their appeal. In 1980, Jones delivered a speech in Beijing about the case and the American legal system.

Justice Jones worked with Senator Robert F. Kennedy in an effort to improve squalor conditions in ghettos and slums in New York. Underestimating Kennedy's genuine desire to help, he said cynically,

"You're another white guy that's out here [in Bedford-Stuyvesant] for the day; you'll be gone and you'll never be seen again. And that's that. We've had enough of that...I'm weary of study, senator. I'm weary of speeches, weary of promises that aren't kept...The Negro people are angry, senator, and, judge that I am, I'm angry too. No one is helping us."[2]

Jones became the first president of Kennedy's bipartisan grassroots community effort, one of two restoration companies (one for community leaders and one for businessmen) that Kennedy helped found for Bedford-Stuyvesant. The objective was to build health clinics, redevelop housing, build parks and playgrounds, spur commercial activity and investment, and increase employment and political participation amongst the residents. In 1967, Jones helped found the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, which grew out of the initial Kennedy effort. The assassination of Kennedy devastated Jones, and led him to focus more on his judicial career instead of community rebuilding.

Jones retired in 1985. He died of prostate cancer in 2006.

In Other Media[edit]

Jones is portrayed by actor Ving Rhames in the 2002 TV Movie RFK.


Preceded by
Samuel Berman
New York State Assembly, Kings County 17th District
Succeeded by
Shirley Chisholm