"It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have." ~ James Baldwin
"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Scipio Jones

Though our historians have begun to acknowledge the horror and violence of slavery and segregation, our understanding of ourselves in the South has rarely included a grasp of just how deeply imbedded group-think has been as a part of our culture. Indeed, the effort to avoid the truth of the shame of slavery and the Jim Crow era has been so pervasive that at the height of both institutions it defined our very existence. ~ Grif Stockley, Blood in Their Eyes: The Elaine Race Massacre

Scipio Africanus Jones was born August 3, 1863 in Dallas County, Arkansas, about 50 miles south of Little Rock. His mother was a fifteen-year-old enslaved girl; his father was reputedly Dr. Sanford Reamey, a local white civic leader. He earned a bachelor's degree 1885 from Bethel University (now Shorter University) in North Little Rock. He taught school while working for free as a janitor in a local law firm where he was able to study law in his spare time. He was admitted to the Arkansas State Bar in 1889.

Jones was active in the Republican party, serving three times as a delegate to the national convention. He was offered positions as the Recorder of Deeds in Washington DC and as Ambassador to Haiti but turned both down to concentrate on local affairs.

Jones was founder and first treasurer of the National Negro Bar Association. He served as National Attorney General for the Mosaic Templars of America, whose headquarters were in Little Rock, as well as providing legal services for other African American lodges. In 1915 he was appointed special judge in the Little Rock Police Court when the presiding judge recused himself from a case, becoming the first African American in Arkansas to occupy the bench. In 1924 he was elected Special Council in the Pulaski County Chancery Court.

The Elaine Twelve
Jones is best known for his work following the Elaine Massacre of 1919, which began with a confrontation between sheriff's deputies and armed guards at a sharecroppers' union meeting and quickly escalated into mob violence as rumors spread that the meeting was to further a plot to kill the white residents of the area. Some estimates put the African American death toll as high as 800, and hundreds were arrested for defending themselves.

Within six weeks,12 men were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death after a trial that lasted 20 minutes. Local residents hired to Jones to represent the men, known as the Elaine 12, and he worked with white attorneys Moorfield Storey and George Murphy who had been hired by the NAACP. Charges were dropped against six of the defendants when the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the jury had not been properly instructed in their case. The other six were given a new trial when the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that the original trials violated due process. They were convicted and sentenced to twelve years in prison. Governor Thomas McRae released then hours before he left office as his successor, Thomas Terrel, was a Klan member how had vowed to execute the prisoners.

In Jones' last case he worked with Thurgood Marshall bringing suit against the Little Rock School District for equal pay for African American teachers. He died in Little Rock on March 2, 1943 at the age of 79.

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