The first female director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund will be the keynote speaker at MIT's 23rd annual celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Thursday, Feb. 6.
Elaine R. Jones, only the fourth director in the LDF's 56-year history, will address more than 300 invited guests at the annual breakfast in La Sala de Puerto Rico in the Stratton Student Center. Her topic will be "`The Strength to Love': Facing the Crisis of the Underclass." A collection of Dr. King's sermons published in 1963 is entitled "The Strength to Love."
Admission to the breakfast, hosted by President Charles M. Vest, will be by invitation only. Dr. Vest and Provost Joel Moses will also speak. In addition, leadership awards will be presented to a faculty member, an alumnus or alumna, and a student or students to honor work that exemplifies the legacy of Dr. King.
The celebration also includes the eighth annual Youth Conference at the Student Center on Friday, Feb. 7 from 6-9pm and Saturday, Feb. 8 from 9am-5pm. The theme of the conference is "Building Bridges for Youth to the Future."
The celebration concludes on February 8 at Kresge Auditorium at 8pm with the annual musical tribute to Dr. King by jazz vocalist Semenya McCord and associates, entitled "Journey Into a Dream." Admission is free and the public is invited.
Ms. Jones joined the LDF after she graduated from the University of Virginia Law School in 1970, declining an offer to join a prestigious New York firm. "Money wasn't the reason I chose the law," she said. "I went to law school to use the law to serve people." She has headed the LDF since 1993.
The LDF, under the direction of its first director-counsel Thurgood Marshall, litigated Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan., the 1954 case in which the US Supreme Court ruled that legally segregated public schools are unconstitutional. The tradition of using the legal system to fight economic and racial injustice continues under Ms. Jones' leadership.
Noting that the LDF had represented white persons as well as African-Americans, among them a woman fired because she had reached age 62, Ms. Jones said, "It's the issues that move us toward equality, not the race of the plaintiff."
A native of Norfolk, VA, Ms. Jones joined the Peace Corps upon graduation from Howard University in 1968 and served in Turkey. When she returned, she became the first African-American woman to attend the University of Virginia Law School.
In 1972, only two years out of law school, she was the attorney of record in Furman v. Georgia, a landmark case before the US Supreme Court that led to abolition of the death penalty in 37 states. She also argued numerous employment discrimination cases.
From 1975-77, Ms. Jones was a special assistant to US Secretary of Transportation William T. Coleman Jr., who is now LDF chairman. When she returned to LDF in 1977, she originated the position of federal legislative advocate and played a key role in securing passage of the Voting Rights Act Amendment in 1982, the Fair Housing Act in 1988, the Civil Rights Act of 1988 and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.
Last year's Martin Luther King Jr. keynote speaker was Julius L. Chambers, a former LDF director who is now president of North Carolina Central University. Other past speakers have included Coretta Scott King, A. Leon Higginbotham Jr., William H. Gray III, Benjamin L. Hooks and Nikki Giovanni.
More information on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration will soon be available on the Web page at http://web.mit.edu/mlking/www>.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 8, 1997.