Sometime in the early hours of August 5, 1965, someone murdered Alberta Jones and tossed her body off Louisville’s Sherman Minton Bridge, into the waters of the Ohio River. Police at the time attributed her death to drowning, but an autopsy also indicated the 35-year-old African-American woman had received several serious blows to her head before she entered the water.
Later, when her automobile—with traces of her blood inside—was found several blocks from the bridge, Louisville police began a murder investigation. After all, Miss Jones was a respected attorney and a court prosecutor. The murder was never solved.
Alberta Odell Jones was one the first African-American women to pass the Kentucky bar (Sally J. Seals White was the first African American woman admitted to the Kentucky Bar), and was the first female city attorney in Jefferson County. She was appointed in February 1965 to be a prosecutor in Louisville Domestic Relations Court, and was murdered in August of that year.
Jones was a graduate of Louisville Central High School and attended the Louisville Municipal College for Negroes. When the college was merged with the University of Louisville (U of L) during desegregation, Jones continued her education at U of L and graduated third in her class. She was accepted into the University of Louisville Law School but transferred after the first year to Howard University School of Law, where she graduated fourth in her class.
After law school, Jones started her own law office, located at 2018 W. Broadway, and at one point represented a young boxer named Cassius Clay. She took Clay—now known as Muhammad Ali—to California to be trained under Archie Moore.
Jones was also active in the Louisville civil rights movement. After participating in the March on Washington and the marches in Louisville, she rented voting machines and held classes to teach African Americans how to vote for the candidate of their choice. She established the Independent Voters Association and was an active member of the Louisville Urban League and the NAACP.
She also established the James "Bulky" Welch Fund and held a fund-raiser, raffling off a car to pay Welch's medical bills and purchase the prosthetic arms to replace the ones young Welch had lost trying to retrieve his dog from under a train.
Archive photo of JET Magazine article, c. 1965
Wednesday, a photo of Jones that will hang in the lobby of the county attorney’s office, was unveiled. Jones’ photo will hold a place of honor opposite a gallery of 20th Century Jefferson County attorneys. At the unveiling ceremony, Jefferson County Attorney Mike O'Connell said, "That devotion was evident from her active roles in the NAACP, the Louisville Urban League, as well as organizations she led, including those which empowered African Americans to exercise their most fundamental freedom at a time when it was unpopular and even dangerous to do so."
Even though Jones' murder was never solved, Louisville Metro Police cold case detectives reviewed the open case last year and announced that they may have a suspect in the murder. Police interviewed a California man, who denied killing Jones, but failed a polygraph test. After reviewing the file and evidence last year, Commonwealth’s Attorney David Stengel reported that prosecuting the case would not be feasible, due to insufficient evidence.
Louisville.com's The Arena section features opinions from active participants in the city's politics. Their viewpoints are not those of Louisville.com (a website is an inanimate object and, as such, has no opinions).
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