Answering the Call

An Autobiography of the Modern Struggle to End Racial Discrimination in America

A revelatory, firsthand account from a distinguished retired jurist of many crucial battles for civil rights, desegregation, and affirmative action

Answering the Call is an extraordinary eyewitness account from an unsung hero of the battle for racial equality in America—a battle that, far from ending with the great victories of the civil rights era, saw some of its signal achievements in the desegregation fights of the 1970s and its most notable setbacks in the affirmative action debates that continue into the present in Ferguson, Baltimore, and beyond.

Judge Nathaniel R. Jones’s pathbreaking career was forged in the 1960s: as the first African American assistant U.S. attorney in Ohio; as assistant general counsel of the Kerner Commission; and, beginning in 1969, as general counsel of the NAACP. In that latter role, Jones coordinated attacks against Northern school segregation—a vital, divisive, and poorly understood chapter in the movement for equality—twice arguing in the pivotal U.S. Supreme Court case Bradley v. Milliken, which addressed school desegregation in Detroit. He also led the national response to the attacks against affirmative action, spearheading and arguing many of the signal legal cases of that effort. Judge Jones’s story is an essential corrective to the idea of a post-racial America—his voice and his testimony offering enduring evidence of the unfinished work of ending Jim Crow’s legacy.


“Nathaniel Jones tells a stunning, inside story of the contemporary struggle for civil rights. His chapters on the legal battles over affirmative action are essential reading for understanding where we are today—underscoring just how much work is left to be done.”
—Vernon E. Jordan Jr., senior counsel, Akin Gump
“Nathaniel R. Jones, one of the unsung heroes of the struggle for civil rights, has lived his life in the struggle for civil rights. Federal appellate judge, general counsel for the NAACP, leading lawyer in the private and public sectors, he has left an indelible mark on our nation. In a time of great cynicism and despair, his story, told with candor and grace, is a reminder of the call to service and higher ground. Answering the Call is that story, and we need to know it now.”
—Theodore M. Shaw, Julius L. Chambers Distinguished Professor of Law, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law
“This is the beautifully written story of an amazing life—a man who has been a civil rights activist, a federal prosecutor, NAACP general counsel, a federal court of appeals judge, and a prominent attorney. But it also is the story of race in the United States over the 90 years of Nathaniel Jones’s life, of the struggles, of how far our society has come, and how much is left to be done. It is a magnificent book that kept me enthralled and that is a reminder of how much one man can accomplish.”
—Erwin Chemerinsky, dean and distinguished professor of law, University of California, Irvine School of Law
Answering the Call is a richly drawn and revealing account of a brave lawyer and judge’s fight for racial equality in America’s schools and society. Judge Jones presents a story almost like a movie; you feel that you are there with him, facing the challenges and savoring the hard-won victories. It is an inspirational story that informs the present as we witness the power of personal relationships and the irreplaceable role of courage and stamina in achieving the racial equality that we and our nation still seek.”
—John E. Pepper, chief executive officer of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and former chairman of the board of the Walt Disney Company
“Nathaniel Jones was called to justice work the way others are called into ministry and we are all the better for it. An end to racial discrimination, abuse and bigotry is not inevitable. Racial justice is achieved when dedicated people do difficult and at times daunting work with little support or acknowledgment. No one understands that better than the legendary Judge Jones and this important book gives life to the idea that one person can make an enormous difference in the world.”
—Bryan Stevenson, professor of clinical law, New York University School of Law, and author of Just Mercy
“Judge Jones’s entire adult life is distinguished by one transcendent theme—an overwhelming sense of duty to work for equality of opportunity through the rule of law. . . . Judge Jones’s commitment to his ideals had made him a national leader for civil liberties and human rights and for promoting the ideal of justice.”
—Gilbert S. Merritt, chief judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, 1989–96

News and Reviews

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Renowned lawyer, jurist, academic, public servant, and author of Answering the Call, Nathaniel R. Jones, is featured in an article in the The Cincinnati Enquirer

Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly calls Answering the Call "a forthright and revealing memoir...[a] careful and considered debut" in their review

Kirkus Reviews

Kirkus calls Answering the Call "a forthright testimony by a witness to history in their review

Goodreads Reviews