Scipio Africanus Jones was a prominent Arkansas attorney at the start of the 20th century. Born a slave around Dallas County, Arkansas in 1863 he moved to Little Rock and attended Walden Seminary. He then moved to Bethel University where he received a bachelors degree in 1885. During the next four years, Jones taught public school while studying law. After passing the bar on June 15, 1889 his credentials were accepted by the Supreme Court of Arkansas in 1900 and by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1905.
Scipio Jones practiced law in Little Rock and frequently represented indigent citizens and worked to correct abuses in the Arkansas penal system. He even temporarily served as a judge twice. His most memorable case was the defense of twelve African American men arrested during the Elaine Massacre in Phillips County. Between November 3 and 17, 1919, twelve men were tried, convicted and sentenced to death for murder. Jones was hired by citizens in Little Rock on November 24, 1919 to work with the firm of George W. Murphy. Murphy had been hired by the NAACP to defend the twelve condemned men. By 1925, all twelve defendants had been released. In one legal brief, Jones described it as “the greatest case against peonage and mob law ever fought in the land.”
Mr. Jones, although praised as a legal hero, was often criticized for his non-confrontational approach to race relations. He worked with Booker T. Washington in building an African American middle and upper class. Jones was a strident member of the Republican Party though and fought leadership who tried to exclude African Americans from the party. In 1920 Jones helped organize a separate party convention for black voters after the Pulaski County convention was moved without advance notice being given to African Americans, but both the state and national party conventions refused to seat the black delegates. On May 1, 1928, Jones was chosen as a delegate from Arkansas to the Republican National Convention. He also served in this position in 1940.
Jones died at his home in Little Rock on March 28, 1943. His funeral was attended by many government officials. The U.S. Post Office at 1700 Main Street in Little Rock was named for him in 2007.
With the anniversary of the Elaine Massacre in 2020 and a monument dedicated to that event opening in Helena, a new children’s book was released that tells the story of Scipio Africanus Jones. It was written by Patricia Kienzie of Fayetteville who founded and volunteered at the Lee Street Community Center in Elaine for twenty years. Candance Dolls of Helena-West Helena drew the illustrations. The book tells the story of this great lawyer and is titled “Scipio Africanus Jones, Both Intelligent and Wise.”
The Delta Cultural Center opened a new exhibit in February 2020 featuring the illustrations from this book. They are presented in their entirety and seats are located in the middle of the room for children to sit and read. These illustrations are truly beautiful and are pieces of art that everyone should come by and view.
Arkansas Times > News > Cover Stories – “Scipio Jones: Both Intelligent and Wise” by Leslie Newell Peacock. August 3, 2019.
Encyclopedia of Arkansas – Jones, Scipio Afriacanus http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.com