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JULY 17, 2001--Newly available historical manuscripts will shed light on the career of Chicago civil rights leader, lawyer, and high-ranking U.S. Presidential appointee, Jewel S. LaFontant-MANkarious ('43, '79 hon., trustee 1981-86).

Donated to the Oberlin College Archives following the alumna's death in 1997, the papers have just been opened for research use following a 14-week effort, led by Project Archivist Melissa Gottwald '97, to arrange and describe the material.

"The papers are a significant addition to the College Archives and Oberlin's history as a leader in the education of African-Americans," says Oberlin Archivist Roland M. Baumann. "In 1943, Jewel LaFontant-MANkarious became the third generation of her family to graduate from Oberlin College. She also became part of the distinguished list of black Oberlin graduates, including John Mercer Langston (1849), Mary Church Terrell (1884), Lucy Stanton (1850), and Carl T. Rowan (1947).

"These papers provide more than a glimpse into the life of a woman who grew up in a middle-class educated family on Chicago's South Side," Baumann says. "Subsequent to her Oberlin undergraduate education and a law degree from the University of Chicago, she worked hard to establish a successful legal career which would take her from the Chicago Legal Aid Society to some of the more prestigious law firms in Chicago and Washington, D.C."

Her high placement in legal circles led to LaFontant-MANkarious' service on numerous corporate boards and to state and federal service. Most notably she served as Deputy Solicitor General of the United States (under Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald Ford) and Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator of Refugee Affairs (under President George Bush).

From the beginning of her career, Jewel LaFontant-MANkarious stood out in the legal and political spheres traditionally dominated by white men. In 1946 she became the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Chicago Law School. Her determination to succeed enabled her to find ways to work effectively in the predominately white and male legal world while maintaining her identity as an African American woman.

Refusing to be a token woman and minority director on corporate boards, LaFontant-MANkarious used her position to persuade and educate other board members on consensus-building and on embracing women's and minority issues.

When Revlon, Inc., was attacked by the Reverend Jesse Jackson's Operation PUSH for locking out black businesses and for doing business in South Africa, Jewel LaFontant-MANkarious was a key member of the special committee that negotiated an agreement leading to Revlon pulling out of South Africa and pledging to expand economic opportunities for minorities.

The LaFontant-MANkarious papers span her life but the bulk of the material documents her later career, from the late 1970s to 1997. They include correspondence, handwritten notes, speeches and addresses, news clippings, and non-textual material such as photographs. They are particularly rich in the areas of her service as Ambassador-at-large and Coordinator of Refugee Affairs (1989-93), Republican Party activities, and corporate board memberships.

In addition, financial documents illustrate the financial resources available to LaFontant-MANkarious during her formative years as well as the lifestyle she maintained. A finding guide to the Jewel LaFontant-MANkarious Papers is available in the Archives or online via the College Archives web site.

The Oberlin College Archives is located on the fourth floor of Mudd Center on the Oberlin College campus and is open to researchers Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-12 noon and 1:30-4:30 p.m.


Media Contact: Betty Gabrielli