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In many Arkansas counties, as an understood rule, a black lawyer

could only appear before the bench when accompanied by a white attorney.



Scipio Africanus Jones

Attorney & Judge, Civil Rights Activist & Businessman


Named after a Roman general, Scipio Africanus Jones was born into slavery, probably late 1863. His master Dr. Sanford Reamey of Tulip in Dallas County (about fifty miles south of Little Rock) was a prominent white man and also the father of the child slave. Dr. Reamey, however, seemed to have played an important role in Scipio's development and education. Scipio Africanus Jones after a distinguished legal career as lawyer and judge died in 1943.. 

As a child, Jones attended black schools near Tulip. He moved to Little Rock in the early 1880s to continue his education. After graduating from the "preparatory course" at Philander Smith College, Jones received a bachelor's degree from North Little Rock's Shorter College in 1887. He then taught school while reading law in the office of three white attorneys. When he passed the Arkansas bar examination in 1889, Jones became one of Little Rock's first "home grown" black lawyers.

Just after the Civil War, most black lawyers in Arkansas came from somewhere else--trained in prestigious schools such as the Boston College School of Law or the University of Chicago. Others took correspondence courses or like Scipio Africanus Jones apprenticed to practicing attorneys.

For the most part, black attorneys were relegated to non-trial work. They prepared contracts, arranged adoptions and wills, filed lawsuits between black clients and did other office work. In a kind of intraracial racism  blacks with money hired white lawyers. And black lawyers had usually only white clients when they were appointed by the court to represent the indigent.

Scipio Jones received his training through a firm of white lawyers--his  white father had a lot to do with that. Twenty-seven black lawyers were admitted to the state bar between 1891 and 1923, a period defined by increasingly difficult race relations and strengthening segregation.

Scipio Africanus Jones became a prominent black Republican and held many party leadership positions. Too young to reap the benefits of Reconstruction, he did not receive the federal appointments that had been available to an earlier generation of black Republican loyalists.  

Much of Jones's period of involvement in the Republican party was spent battling the "lily white" faction that steadily gained power during the early 20th century. Including his involvement in Republican politics, Jones was locally prominent  also for his work as attorney for the Mosaic Templars. 

However, Judge Jones, appointed to the bench in 1915, was primarily noted for his defense of twelve black men who in 1919 were convicted of murder after race related violence in Philips County, Arkansas. He successfully appealed on behalf of these twelve black men who had been convicted of murder following the Elaine Race Riot. This case brought Jones national recognition.

Black tenant farmers were holding a union meeting in a church in Elaine, Arkansas, when shots were fired just before dawn on October 1. After two days of violence, federal troops were sent in from Little Rock to quell the riots. Five white men were killed and estimates of the dead among blacks range from 20 to more than 800.

Although no whites were arrested, 143 blacks were taken into custody and 12 were convicted of first-degree murder  in twenty minutes.

Jones worked with a firm of white lawyers to free the twelve men. The defense took place over a period of six years, with one case going as far as the Supreme Court of the United States. Jones, however, did not go to the nation's highest court.

Though he did not put forth most of the argument, he did much of the research. In many Arkansas counties, as an understood rule, a black lawyer could only appear before the bench when accompanied by a white attorney.

Jones was not hired until late November, after all twelve had been convicted. He was retained by black Little Rock citizens to work with a white attorney George W. Murphy, employed by the NAACP, and later as co counsel with Edgar L. McHaney, another white attorney. 

Although he was prohibited from arguing the case, it was through Jones' efforts, that Moore v. Dempsey, for the first time, permitted collateral attack, through habeus corpus, on a state appellate court decision. All twelve defendants were finally freed five years after their conviction, through a maze of motions, appeals, retrials, and executive clemency that only a skilled lawyer could manage.

The episode began on Sept. 30, 1919, when white lawmen broke up a meeting of black sharecroppers who had convened in a church in Phillips County, near Elaine, to discuss forming an agricultural union. One lawman was killed and another wounded, provoking a mob of white vigilantes to roam the county for several days. When order finally was restored, five white people had been killed, and, officially, twenty-five African Americans -- but most likely substantially more -- were murdered randomly. Despite the many black deaths, no whites were charged after the riot. However, within a month, an all-white jury convicted twelve black men of murder and sentenced them to death. The NAACP soon hired a white Little Rock attorney, George W. Murphy, to appeal the convictions.

Above right: Arkansas Gov. Charles Brough, right, accompanied federal troops to Elaine in 1919

 Murphy, in turn, asked Scipio Jones to assist him. When Murphy died unexpectedly less than a year later, Jones took the lead in the appeal, and charges against six of the men were dismissed in 1923. 

Jones subsequently made an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court for the remaining six defendants, whose cases were returned to federal district court for trial. These six men were sentenced to 12 years in prison, but in 1925 the governor pardoned them, bringing to a close the most important legal battle in Scipio Jones's long career as a lawyer.

During the time he worked on the appeal, Jones lived in a modest Colonial Revival cottage that still stands at 1911 Pulaski St. This was his third home in the Dunbar neighborhood, following residences at 1808 and 1822 Ringo, where he had lived with his first wife, Carrie, and their daughter, Hazel. 

When Jones remarried after Carrie's death, he and his second wife, Lillie, lived on Pulaski for about ten years before building a more substantial and stylish house at 1872 Cross in 1928. The house on Cross, a richly-detailed Craftsman-style residence, was Jones's home until his death in 1943. The Scipio A. Jones House on Cross Street is one of the eight historically-black properties in the neighborhood surrounding Dunbar Junior High being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. 

There are two versions of the "Elaine race riot of 1919" that left as many as 200 blacks dead: the white version and the black version.  Out of fear of revenge and retaliation, the stark differences rarely have been aired in public in this Mississippi Delta community.

In Elaine, on September 30, 1919,  when a white sheriff's deputy was killed and white mobs from Arkansas and Mississippi took revenge on blacks. No one in Elaine at this point is leading an effort for reparations.

According to the white version, a black man, Robert L. Hill, organized a union among black sharecroppers, incited them, planned an insurrection in which the blacks would kill the whites and take their land. Unprovoked, a white deputy was shot by blacks meeting at a church near Elaine, and chaos ensued.

More than 500 federal troops were sent into Philips County, accompanied by the governor, to restore order. When it was over, five whites and an undetermined number of blacks were dead and hundreds of blacks were arrested.

The black version portrays the whites as the aggressors: The blacks tried to get their fair share of the money from cotton sales by forming a sharecroppers union to assure an accurate account of how much they were owed by landowners.

Even the number of dead remains up for debate: anywhere from 20 to 200 blacks died in the clash. Though no one knows for sure who fired the first shot, there is much evidence that whites attacked and killed blacks indiscriminately.

Rather than the term "riot," the words "massacre"  and "lynchings" are most appropriate to describe what happened in Philips County. Four blacks were killed in the custody of white law officers. Historical research supports racial abuse, though the U.S. Supreme Court secured the freedom of the twelve blacks condemned to be electrocuted

Robert Miller, who last year became the first black mayor of Helena, grew up hearing the stories because he is related to one of the four black men who were killed in custody.

"My father talked to me all of my growing up life," said the 68-year-old Miller, who also has a medical practice in town. "He made it plain -- this is one of the things you don't talk about."

Because of the riots, his grandmother sent his father to Boston to attend school, he said.

Right now, race relations in the county are particularly strained. The West Helena mayor's office and City Council are divided along racial lines, and so is the county Quorum Court.

Last week, an Oklahoma state commission recommended reparations for black survivors of a 1921 rampage by white mobs in Tulsa. Historians say as many as 300 blacks were killed.

In 1994, Florida approved $2 million in compensation for nine survivors and dozens of descendants of a 1923 attack on blacks in Rosewood, Fla.


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Blood in Their Eyes
y Grif Stockley

Blood in Their Eyes is required reading for every Arkansas lawyer, because this time Grif Stockley reviews the work of a real Gideon Page, a black lawyer named Scipio Jones who read law to become licensed and became one of Arkansas' outstanding lawyers. Jones is credited with one of the most important cases in American history, Moore v. Dempsey 261 U.S. 86(1923), and standing alone many times, saved the lives of 12 innocent, albeit convicted, black sharecroppers from Elaine, Arkansas. The Elaine race riot, as history until now has called it, is an awful blemish on Arkansas history. It is such a blemish that most historians have treated it lightly or shied away from it. But Grif Stockley, an outstanding Arkansas lawyer in his own right, is not known for shying away from much of anything, and he tackles the issue head on in his first writing on Arkansas history. In typical lawyer fashion Stockley analyzes the facts and writes his brief in Blood in Their Eyes

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Otis G. Clark survivor of 1921 Tulsa race riot dies at 109—Matt Schudel—26 May 2012—For years, few people dared to speak about what happened on the night of May 31, 1921, during one of the most deadly and devastating race riots in the nation’s history. Otis G. Clark, who was 18 at the time, had grown up in Greenwood, a thriving African American section of Tulsa. During a night that history almost forgot, Mr. Clark dodged bullets, raced through alleys to escape armed mobs and saw his family’s home burned to the ground. He fled Tulsa on a freight train headed north. He would eventually move to Los Angeles, where he was the butler in the home of movie star Joan Crawford. He later turned to preaching and was known as the “world’s oldest evangelist.” But for nine decades, he remained a living witness to a night of horror, when Greenwood died. Mr. Clark died May 21 in Seattle at age 109, family members told the Tulsa World newspaper. The cause of death was not disclosed. . . . A state commission finally issued a report on the riot in 2001.

Otis Granville Clark was born Feb. 13, 1903, in Meridian, Okla., four years before Oklahoma became a state. His father worked for the railroad. In a 2009 interview for a Tulsa oral history project, Mr. Clark said one of his jobs as a boy was selling vegetables and groceries to a house occupied by what he called “sportin’ women.”WashingtonPost / Tulsaworld  / adlercent

Otis G. Clark was born on February 13, 1903, in Oklahoma. At the time, Oklahoma was still Indian Territory and it did not become a state until 1907.  At the age of 18, Otis was caught in the "1921 Tulsa Race Riot" in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Greenwood, at the time, was a mecca for African-Americans who, due to the oil boom, owned their own successful businesses. Otis fled Tulsa, riding the rails to California, seeking his biological father.—adlercentenarians

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American Creation

Triumphs and Tragedies in the Founding of the Republic

By Joseph J. Ellis

This subtle, brilliant examination of the period between the War of Independence and the Louisiana Purchase puts Pulitzer-winner Ellis (Founding Brothers) among the finest of America's narrative historians. Six stories, each centering on a significant creative achievement or failure, combine to portray often flawed men and their efforts to lay the republic's foundation. Set against the extraordinary establishment of the most liberal nation-state in the history of Western Civilization... in the most extensive and richly endowed plot of ground on the planet are the terrible costs of victory, including the perpetuation of slavery and the cruel oppression of Native Americans. Ellis blames the founders' failures on their decision to opt for an evolutionary revolution, not a risky severance with tradition (as would happen, murderously, in France, which necessitated compromises, like retaining slavery).

Despite the injustices and brutalities that resulted, Ellis argues, this deferral strategy was a profound insight rooted in a realistic appraisal of how enduring social change best happens. Ellis's lucid, illuminating and ironic prose will make this a holiday season hit.— Publishers Weekly /  American Creation (Joseph Ellis interview)

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The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921

By Tim Madigan

Journalist Madigan (See No Evil: Blind Devotion and Bloodshed in David Koresh's Holy War) here tackles one of America's worst race riots, chronicling the shocking events of May 31 and June 1, 1921 when a white mob numbering in the thousands obliterated the African American community of Greenwood, OK, near Tulsa. Race riots and tensions were very common after World War I, but what makes the Greenwood incident unique was the unheard-of organization of the mob and the completeness of the destruction (35 city blocks systematically burned and destroyed along with hundreds of casualties). Though it is arguably America's worst race riot, surprisingly little has been written about it in the mainstream press. For this work, Madigan relied on taped interviews of survivors and witnesses, newspaper accounts, scholarly papers and theses, and interviews with the descendants of survivors. What results is a highly readable account of the circumstances and history surrounding the event and its aftermath. Truly an eye-opening book, this is essential reading for anyone struggling to understand race relations in America. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.—Library Journal

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King of the Mountain

The Nature of Political Leadership

By Arnold M. Ludwig

“People may choose to ignore their animal heritage by interpreting their behavior as divinely inspired, socially purposeful, or even self-serving, all of which they attribute to being human, but they masticate, fornicate, and procreate, much as chimps and apes do, so they should have little cause to get upset if they learn that they act like other primates when they politically agitate, debate, abdicate, placate, and administrate, too."—from the book King of the Mountain presents the startling findings of Arnold M. Ludwig's eighteen-year investigation into why people want to rule. The answer may seem obvious—power, privilege, and perks—but any adequate answer also needs to explain why so many rulers cling to power even when they are miserable, trust nobody, feel besieged, and face almost certain death. Ludwig's results suggest that leaders of nations tend to act remarkably like monkeys and apes in the way they come to power, govern, and rule. Profiling every ruler of a recognized country in the twentieth century—over 1,900 people in all­­, Ludwig establishes how rulers came to power, how they lost power, the dangers they faced, and the odds of their being assassinated, committing suicide, or dying a natural death.

Then, concentrating on a smaller sub-set of 377 rulers for whom more extensive personal information was available, he compares six different kinds of leaders, examining their characteristics, their childhoods, and their mental stability or instability to identify the main predictors of later political success. Ludwig's penetrating observations, though presented in a lighthearted and entertaining way, offer important insight into why humans have engaged in war throughout recorded history as well as suggesting how they might live together in peace.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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update 27 May 2012



Home    Civil Rights: Struggle for Black Power    Lynching Table

Related files: Scipio Africanus Jones  Moore v. Dempsey   Blood in Their Eyes    Phillips County Massacre  Jim Crow Riots  Lynching State By Race