When a prosecutor turns up murdered, the list of possible suspects is long.
When a black, female prosecutor with a history of civil rights activism turns up murdered, the list of possible suspects is even longer.
More than 50 years after her body washed ashore on the banks of the Ohio River, we still have no idea who killed Alberta O. Jones, Louisville’s first black, female prosecutor, or why they did it.
Alberta Jones was murdered on August 5, 1965. She was beaten unconscious, then dumped into the Ohio River, where she drowned. Her murder has never been solved.
The sensational facts surrounding Jones’ death have all but swallowed the accomplishments of her short life. To say Jones had moxie would be an understatement.
Jones graduated from Central High School, and went on to graduate third in her class from the University of Louisville. She graduated fourth in her class from Howard University School of Law. She was one of the first African American women to pass the Kentucky Bar.
When a young boxer from the West End of Louisville by the name of Cassius Clay began his boxing career, it was Alberta Jones who negotiated his contract with the Louisville Sponsoring Group. A copy of the contract hangs in the Ali Center in downtown Louisville today. In an era when many young athletes were taken advantage of, Jones ably negotiated with 11 white men to put 15 percent of Clay’s winnings in a trust, where it would be protected until he turned 35. It took a lot of moxie for a young black woman to hold her own against some of the most powerful men in Louisville, particularly in the early 1960s. Jones had the moxie to do it.
At the height of the highly-charged fight for civil rights, Jones established the Independent Voters Association and took the lead in registering voters. She rented voting machines and held classes aimed at teaching newly-registered African American voters how to vote for the candidates of their choice. She was responsible for registering and training more than 6,000 African American voters. Her efforts paid off. Thanks in large part to this empowered and informed voting bloc, a wave of new candidates swept office in Louisville in 1961. Within two years, they had enacted the first public accommodation ordinance in the South, outlawing discrimination that kept blacks from entering stores and sitting a lunch counters alongside whites. It took moxie to overthrow the status quo with a peaceful vote, and Jones led the way.
In 1964, Jones became the first woman prosecutor in Kentucky. She was a prosecutor in the Louisville Domestic Relations Court. In her role, she went after abusers, protecting the vulnerable. It takes moxie to face down a violent man and convince a judge he deserves jail for his crimes.
Jones’ accomplishments remained largely forgotten until recently, when a large banner was unfurled in her honor on the side of the River City Bank building at 6th and Ali in the heart of Louisville. “Alberta’s Louisville” reads the banner, and indeed it is. Thanks to the moxie of a brilliant, charming young woman, Louisville is a very different place than it might otherwise have been.
Jones used her brief time on earth incredibly well, but there’s no telling what Jones might have gone on to do had her life not been cut short. I can’t help but wonder what she might have accomplished next. Who would she help now? Who needs her voice, and encouragement?