Tuesday October 18, 2011
On August 10th, County Attorney Mike O'Connell honored the first African-American female prosecutor in Jefferson County, Alberta O. Jones. Jones, aunt of JCAO Bad Check Supervisor Vicky Skinner, achieved many firsts, and doubtless would have achieved more, but she was murdered in August of 1965.
Alberta graduated third in her recently desegregated undergraduate class at the University of Louisville. She studied one year at U of L School of Law and then Howard University in Washington, where she drafted legislation for Congressmen to earn money for her education.
After graduating fourth in her law school class, Alberta returned to her community and sat for the Kentucky bar. On the first of the three-day exam, she was told by a facilitator that, to his knowledge, she was the first African-American to sit for the bar. Alberta’s response was that if she’d known how much was depending on her, she would have studied harder – and worn a nicer outfit.
She passed the bar exam, and became a practicing attorney.
In 1965, Alberta was handpicked to prosecute cases in what was then known as “Domestic Relations Court.” As a sign of the times, her salary was only $6,000 a year, but court was in session for one hour a day. Those were the days.
A prosecutor’s primary ethical duty is simply to “do justice.” Alberta Jones lived every day by those words. Whether she was in a courtroom or in her community; whether in Washington or in Louisville; Alberta Jones was devoted to justice and equality. That devotion was evident from her active roles with the NAACP, the Louisville Urban League, as well as organizations she led, including those which empowered African-Americans to exercise their most fundamental freedoms in times when it was unpopular and even dangerous to do so.
Alberta’s activism may have cost her her life. Her murder in August 1965 devastated her community, leaving it without an invaluable voice in the fight for justice. The headline in the Louisville Defender read, simply, “A Bright Light Extinguished.”
Alberta’s untimely death a year after passage of the federal Civil Rights Act is a reminder that we still have work to do; that the path to equality, racial or otherwise, is not without obstacles. But Alberta’s brief life is a reminder of much more. It is a study in human potential, and what previously unattainable goals can be reached when we simply put our hearts and our minds in motion.
So we gather today to honor Alberta Jones, to recognize her achievements, and to thank her posthumously for her profound impact on our profession and on our community. My hope is that this photograph will preserve Alberta Jones’s legacy in the minds of the citizens and attorneys who come through this building every day; and that they will pick up the torch her bright light carried in the name of justice.