Black History Month—Remembering Jefferson J. Jones, Ohio's pioneer endodontist with a legacy of excellence

Portrait of Jefferson J. Jones with his daughter, Jakki Nance and her husband, Frederick R. Nance.

Ohio’s medical history includes a rich tapestry of influential scientists, and one name shines as a trailblazer and pioneer in the field of endodontics—Jefferson J. Jones.
In 1967—a time marked by historic milestones in civil rights—Thurgood Marshall secured his place as the first Black justice of the United States Supreme Court, and in Cleveland, Carl Stokes made history as the first Black elected mayor of a U.S. city. At the same time, Jefferson J. Jones, Ohio's first Black endodontist, began a one-year instructional contract at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Dental Medicine.
Jones dedicated over four decades to the institution, during which he not only served as the chair of the endodontics department—elevating its national standing—but also played a pivotal role in establishing the graduate residency program. Additionally, he was a founding member of the university's Black Faculty and Staff Organization which he helped lead for almost 25 years—a contribution very meaningful to Associate Dean for Admissions and Student Affairs Kristin Williams. 
“The organization was both a resource and a support—academically and socially—for us at a time when there were so few African Americans on the CWRU campus,” said Williams. “He also served as the faculty advisor for our chapter of the Student National Dental Association and encouraged all of the Black students to support each other, reach back to bring someone up next to us and—most importantly—always strive to practice with the utmost professionalism and ethics.”
Jones passed away in 2015, but his legacy lives on in the hearts of those who knew him—including Andre Mickel, chair of the Department of Endodontics and director of the Postgraduate Endodontic Program. 
“If it were not for Dr. Jones, I would not be in the position I am today,” said Mickel. “In fact, I would not even be an endodontist. He was my mentor, teacher, advisor, friend, brother and father figure, and so much more.  And not just to me, but to people all around the world.” 
After graduating from Lincoln University in Pittsburgh, Jones completed two research projects at Cleveland Clinic and served two tours in the U.S. Army, achieving the rank of captain. Jones studied dental education at the University of Pittsburgh, followed by postgraduate training in endodontics in San Francisco. When he returned to Cleveland, he accepted the instructor position at Case Western Reserve while also beginning work at University Hospitals.
For many years, Jones was an advocate for underserved communities. Notably, he was the founding dental director of the Glenville Area Medical and Dental Health Facility where dental and medical services were provided to the residents of the Glenville neighborhood, on Cleveland’s East Side. In acknowledgment of his advocacy for the medically underserved and numerous other contributions, Jones was honored with the Health Legacy of Cleveland Award for Excellence in 2007.
In 2018, Jones's legacy was commemorated by the Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusive Engagement which added his portrait to its Trailblazer Project. The office established the program to honor distinguished alumni, faculty and administrators of color—as well as women—at Case Western Reserve University. His portrait is displayed in the Allen Medical Library.
At the top of the list of all of Jones’ accomplishments, both Mickel and Williams commended his ability to listen to and guide all students with a huge heart and a practical head.
“Just as Dr. Jones did, I try to be available to our students for anything they might need,” said Mickel. “He taught me that as faculty, we work for the students and they should always be our prime motivation in all we do for the school.”