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Scipio A Jones

s a lawyer committed to helping blacks in the courtroom and in the post-Reconstruction political arena, the late Scipio Africanus Jones helped blaze the trail of Arkansas history. Born into a slave family about 1863, Jones at an early age joined the household of Horace Jones in Tulip (Dallas County).

In 1881, the teenage Scipio moved to Little Rock and entered Bethel University, now Philander Smith College. He graduated in 1885 from Shorter College in North Little Rock (known then as Argenta), and taught at Sweet Home, while studying law at the office of Judge J. Lea. In 1889, Jones passed the state bar examination. By 1905 he was licensed to practice before the US Supreme Court. An astute businessman and a partner in the Louisiana Street law practice, Jones represented many clients too poor to pay him. He is most famous for defending blacks charged with murder after the 1919 Elaine (Phillips County) riot in which five whites and about 25 blacks died.

The all-white jury convicted 12 of 65 blacks tried and sentenced them to death. Jones later became counsel for a NAACP defense staff whose appeals ultimately brought about an acquittal for the 12 by 1924. Also a political activist, Jones served as municipal court judge in 1915 and 1926. He became a Republican ward worker and, by 1898, was named to the County Election Commission. When efforts were made in 1920 to close the Republican Party to blacks, Jones rallied an opposing “Blacks and Tans” party and helped to force a 1928 compromise that allowed blacks to remain in the GOP. Jones attended Republican national conventions until 1940.

Until his death in 1943, Jones took on a number of noble causes, fighting to return academic learning to black city schools and challenging unequal pay for white and black teachers. He also was a champion of prison reforms. In 1928, North Little Rock’s Hickory Street School was renamed Scipio A Jones High School in his honor.