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July 08, 2021

Lawyer and civil rights advocate Clarence B. Jones to receive ABA Thurgood Marshall Award

WASHINGTON, July 8, 2021 — The American Bar Association Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice will honor legendary civil rights leader Clarence B. Jones with its 2021 Thurgood Marshall Award. The award will be presented at a Thurgood Marshall Award Celebration virtual program on Friday, Aug. 6, at 4:30-5:30 p.m. CT during the  ABA Hybrid Annual Meeting.

“There are so many civil rights heroes — I call them warriors behind the scenes — to whom we owe a great deal of gratitude for the rights and liberties we hold dear,” said Angela J. Scott, chair of the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice.  “But often, we aren't aware of the full extent of their contributions. This year, I am thrilled that we have the privilege of recognizing and honoring one of these heroes.” 

The award honors U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who epitomized individual commitment, in word and action, to the cause of civil rights in this country. The award recognizes similar long-term contributions by other members of the legal profession to the advancement of civil rights, social justice, and human rights in the United States.

The virtual program will include a presentation of the award, remarks by Jones, and remarks by Marie Sylla-Dixon, the chief diversity officer at Raytheon Technologies. A conversation between Jones and Ronny Chieng, stand-up comedian, actor and correspondent on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah will be about justice, equality and the future of civil rights.

Tribute speakers will include Ambassador Andrew Young; David Cole, national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Lateefah Simon, president of the Akonadi Foundation, Jonathan D. Greenberg, co-founder and director of the University of San Francisco Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice; Larry Gibson, the University of Maryland, School of Law Morton & Sophia Macht Professor of Law and Thurgood Marshall, Jr.  

Jones graduated from Columbia University in 1956. He served in the U.S. Army and later received his law degree from Boston University School of Law in 1959. He later moved to California to pursue a career as an entertainment lawyer. 

In 1960, Jones joined Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legal team. As the draft speech writer for King during the Birmingham Campaign, Jones took King’s famously hand-written notes from the jail cell that became known as the “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

In 1962, Dr.  King wrote a letter recommending Jones, his lawyer and adviser at the time, to the New York State Bar. He wrote, “Ever since I have known Mr. Jones, I have always seen him as a man of sound judgment, deep insights, and great dedication. I am also convinced that he is a man of great integrity” (King, 29 May 1962). Jones played a major role in the Civil Rights Movement. He helped to organize the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He also assisted Dr. King in writing his “I have A Dream” speech. He is the author of “What Would Martin Say?” and “Behind the Dream: The Making of the Speech that Transformed a Nation”.

Jones was  the first African American partner at a Wall Street investment bank and also served as visiting professor at the University of San Francisco and Stanford University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. In 2015, President Barack Obama honored Jones at the White House.

The Clarence B. Jones Institute for Social Advocacy was established in 2017 as a nonprofit that works to enhance the educational experience of students by developing and preparing leaders who serve the public through civic engagement, social advocacy and community service.

The ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice provides leadership within the legal profession in protecting and advancing human rights, civil liberties and social justice. Representing nearly 10,000 members with a wide range of professional interests and expertise, the section keeps its members abreast of complex civil rights and social justice issues and ensures that they remain a focus of law and policy.

There is no charge for media covering this event. To register, please contact Betsy Adeboyejo at 202-662-1039 or [email protected].

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. View our privacy statement online. Follow the latest ABA news at and on Twitter @ABANews.