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Scipio Africanus Jones was born in Dallas County, Arkansas, around August 1863-64. Jones was first admitted to practice in the circuit court of Pulaski County (Little Rock), Arkansas, on June 15, 1889, and to the state Supreme Court on November 26, 1900. Ultimately, Scipio Jones would be admitted to practice before the United States District Court in 1901, to the United States Supreme Court in 1905, and to the United States Court of Appeals in 1914.
After education both at Philander Smith College and Shorter College in Little Rock, Jones followed the traditional route of studying law under the mentorship of several lawyers (in his case, prominent white Little Rock lawyers), later passing a bar examination administered by three other members of the Little Rock bar.
After admission, Jones quickly developed a good business practice. He was active in the Wonder State Bar Association, a Black lawyers’ group, and in Booker T. Washington’s National Negro Business League (NNBL). He was instrumental in creating a “black lawyers’ auxiliary” in 1909. When the National Negro Bar Association held its organizational meeting in Little Rock, Jones was selected as its first treasurer. The initial goal of the group was to support Black businessmen, but organizing also provided a means of communication between Black lawyers across the country. In 1914, its goals expanded to include protecting the civil rights of all Black citizens. The NNBA soon separated from the Business League and, in 1926, was incorporated in its own right.
Jones, in addition to his business practice, also devoted time to cases involving racial and other discrimination. Beginning in 1901, in at least five cases, Jones presented the argument that criminal convictions of defendants should be overturned because the juries that indicted or convicted them included no African-Americans and the verdicts were therefore discriminatory and unconstitutional. In 1918, Jones made the same argument in a trial court motion to squash an indictment against a man for forging divorce decrees. This legal argument later would be used successfully by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in its work.
Jones is reported to have won a civil case against white Shriners who had sold fraternal regalia to African-American Shriners, then tried to prevent them from using it. In 1905, Scipio Jones was part of a successful fight against an unfair county convict labor leasing system. Jones also is reported to have sued a planter for mistreating convicts leased to him.
The case that made Scipio Jones a national legal figure, however, arose out of the “riots” of 1919 occurring near Elaine, Arkansas. Three days of fighting between whites and African-Americans between September 30 and October 4 resulted in the deaths of five white men and an untold number of Blacks (estimates range between 25 and several hundred). One hundred-forty-three African-American men were arrested by the authorities, and 73 were indicted by a grand jury. Twelve of them were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in hasty trials. George W. Murphy, a white attorney, and Scipio Jones represented the twelve, while Jones alone negotiated on behalf of about 60 others sentenced to prison terms.
Almost four years later, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the circumstances existing at the time had not allowed the defendants a fair trial (Moore v. Dempsey), and sent the case back to Arkansas for a new trial. By 1925, all 12 of the condemned men and the others sentenced to prison terms were released.
In 1930, Jones and other African-American lawyers represented the Arkansas Negro Democratic Association (ANDA) in a suit against the Democratic Party to win the right to vote in Democratic primaries. Although they took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, they lost. Just before his death in 1943, Jones joined with other African-American attorneys and the NAACP in an equal pay demand by a Little Rock African-American public school teacher. Although Jones died before the verdict, the suit was successful. Scipio Jones appears as attorney of record in forty-five published opinions.
Jones was the first African-American lawyer to create a record of appearances before the state Supreme Court. He appeared in that court and in the federal district court in 45 cases between 1891 and 1943. Jones was respected by white members of the bar, and twice, in 1915 and in 1924, was elected by them to preside over cases when the usual judge had a conflict. Once in circuit court and once in chancery court, Scipio Jones presided over matters involving Black parties and witnesses.
Jones was an active Republican all his life. In 1891, he worked against passage of the “Separate Coach” bill. In 1902, he, Archie V. Jones (no relation), and J. A. Robinson created the Independent Political League and offered their own slate of candidates for county offices in opposition to the regular political parties. In 1911, he headed the Negro State Suffrage League, which successfully opposed efforts to amend the state constitution to insert a “grandfather clause” and impose other educational requirements for voting. Thereafter, and into the 1920s, he worked with other Black lawyers in fighting for Black power and influence in candidate selection and issues within the Republican Party, holding their own state conventions in 1914 and 1916. When the Republicans held their 1920 state convention in a segregated hotel, Jones, J.A. Hibbler, J.R. Booker, W.A. Singfield, W.L. Purifoy, and others attended and refused to leave until the lights were turned off. They then held their own separate convention. Despite these differences with the party, Jones was the state’s most prominent Black Republican after Mifflin Gibbs’ death in 1915. Jones served as a delegate to the GOP’s National Conventions in 1912, 1928 and in 1940.
He also provided leadership for other lawyers. Scipio Jones had working and mentoring relationships with a number of African-American attorneys, both his peers and younger men. He shared a practice with John A. Robinson from 1893 through 1896. Later, between 1900 and 1903, he partnered with Archie V. Jones. City directories show attorney John W. Gaines in a partnership with Scipio Jones between 1906 and 1908. In 1908, Thomas J. Price began a fairly lengthy partnership with Jones. In 1912, John Gaines rejoined Scipio Jones and Thomas J. Price to create Jones, Price & Gaines. That relationship lasted until 1915, when Price left the office and Milton Wayman Guy arrived, changing the firm name to Jones, Gaines & Guy. This union lasted only one year. In 1916, Guy was on his own and in 1917, John Gaines returned to solo practice.
After 1917, Scipio Jones was not listed in a partnership, but only as a solo practitioner. However, he continued to work with a number of lawyers on an ad hoc basis. For example, Thomas Price, J.R. Booker and John Hibbler worked with Jones in the Elaine cases. Scipio Jones practiced in Pulaski County for a total of 54 years. He is listed as attorney of record in 27 civil cases between 1909 and 1944 and 18 criminal law cases between 1901 and 1943.
Scipio Jones also ventured into business and civic affairs in the larger community. He ran, unsuccessfully, for a place on the Little Rock School Board in 1903. He helped the city of Little Rock obtain a large loan by threatening to withdraw client funds from the banks. In 1908, he created the Arkansas Realty and Investment Company with attorney Thomas J. Price and others. This business was intended to help Blacks purchase homes. It failed after three years. He engineered the purchase by the Mosaic Templars (an Arkansas-created fraternal organization) of $125,000 in Liberty Bonds during World War I. Jones was an early member of the first Arkansas branch of the NAACP in Little Rock in 1926. He also served as director of the United Charities drive (a predecessor of the United Way).
In 1941, Scipio Jones pressured the University of Arkansas directly to provide tuition assistance for an African-American graduate student who could not obtain legal education in the state. He was successful, but only in part. The University paid his client’s tuition and the state legislature later appropriated money for the purpose, but the money was deducted from the budget of Arkansas Mechanical & Normal College, which provided the only state-supported higher education in Arkansas for Blacks at that time.
Scipio Jones was married about 1890 to Carrie, who was from Louisiana. They had a child Hazel, born about 1892. As of 1900, he owned his own home. Carrie died before 1910, when the census reports him living alone and widowed. Jones remarried, some time between 1910 and 1920, to Lillie, age 44, an Arkansas native. A servant is also shown as residing in the home in 1920. Scipio Jones died on March 2, 1943.
Sources: Judith Kilpatrick, “(EXTRA)Ordinary Men: African-American Lawyers and Civil Rights in Arkansas Before 1950,” 53 Ark. Law Rev. 299, 303 n7, 307, 308 n47, 310 n63, 334, 339, 340 n301, 345, 351 n378, 351 n381, 352-53, 357, 358-73, 376 n601, 377-80, 383-84, 386, 388-93 (2000); The Colored Lawyers, Arkansas Gazette, 7/31/1901; E.M. Woods, Blue Book of Little Rock and Argenta, Arkansas 59 (1907; Samuel S. Taylor, Survey of Negroes in Little Rock and North Little Rock 31 (1941); Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston (eds.), Dictionary of American Negro Biography 368-69 (1982); Who’s Who in Colored America, 1928-29, 219; Who’s Who in America, 1930-31, 1231; W. Augustus Low and Virgil A. Clift (eds.), Encyclopedia of Black America 619; “Negroes as Jurors,” 5/2/1902, Arkansas Gazette; Scipio A. Jones, “The Arkansas Peons,” Nov 1921-Oct 1922, The Crisis (NAACP) 72-117; D.B. Gaines, Racial Possibilities as Indicated by the Negroes of Arkansas 88 (1898); “Scipio Jones Special Judge,” 4/8/1915, Arkansas Democrat; 5 Afro-American Encyclopedia 1280-81 (1974); Octavius Coke (ed.), The Scrapbook of Arkansas Literature 312 (1939); Chuck Plunkett, “White, black kin of state leader to meet in NLR,” 5/3/1999, Arkansas Democrat Gazette, p. 1B; Grif Stockley, “Scipio Africanus Jones,” 6/8//1999, Arkansas Democrat Gazette, 1E; 1895-96, 1897-98 Little Rock City Directories; “Scipio Jones, State Negro Leader, Dies,” 3/29/1943, Arkansas Gazette; 1900, 1910, 1920 U.S. Census for Arkansas; African American Biographical Database, Profile, http://abd.chadwyck.com/bbidx/full_rec (last visited 6/9/1999); Papers of the NAACP, Part 12, Reel 4, p. 991, letter dtd 10/31/1927, from Scipio A. Jones, Mosaic Templars of America, Endowment Department, to James Weldon Johnson, NAACP. Little Rock, AR.; Papers of the NAACP, Part 12, Reel 4, p. 903 (letter dtd 4/22/1925 from Director of Branches (NAACP) to Carrie L. Shepperson re Frank Moore); Papers of the NAACP, Part 12, Reel 4, p. 963-64 (Membership Report dtd 10/13/1926); Entry in http://en/wikipedia.org/wiki/Scipio_Africanus_Jones (visited 5/5/2009);
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