Scipio Africanus Jones
(1863 – 1943 )
- Successfully defended “Elaine 12” and won the landmark supreme court victory of Moore v. Dempsey
- Republican Presidential Delegate
- Held sit-in at Arkansas Republican convention
- Married once in 1890 and widowed married again around 1915
- Fought against the repeal of black voting rights in Arkansas
Scipio Africanus Jones was born in Dallas County Arkansas to a white father and black mother in 1863. He was educated at Smith College and Shorter College in Little Rock Arkansas. He became a lawyer in 1889.
Jones as a member of several organizations. He joined the Wonder State Bar Association where he was able to network with prominent white lawyers. Jones also joined Booker T. Washington’s National Negro Business League and founded the Black Lawyers Auxiliary. In 1926, the Black Lawyers Auxiliary separated and became the National Negro Bar Association. Jones served as the first treasurer.
Jones was an active politically all his life. In 1902, Jones formed an independent party and ran candidates for county offices. He was elected to the Little Rock School board in 1903. Arkansas attempted to prevent blacks from voting by enacting educational requirements for voting. In response, Jones formed the Negro State Suffrage League in 1911 and stopped the laws from passing.
Arkansas has Black Republican Conventions in 1914 and 1916 which were organized by Jones. He held a sit-in for the 1920 State GOP Convention because it was in a segregated hotel. Even with all of Jones’s activism, the GOP respected him greatly. He served as the GOP delegate in 1912, 1928, and 1940.
One of the early victories in school integration came from Jones. In 1941, black law student petitioned the University of Arkansas for tuition assistance. He won the case because there were no black law schools in Arkansas at the time. Unfortunately, the money to fund the law education was pulled from money allocated to the one black technical college in Arkansas.
Moore v. Dempsey
The information for this section is a summary of “Evanescence The Elaine Massacre by J. Chester Johnson.”
Throughout Jones’s law career he fought for the expansion and solidifying of the fourteenth amendment. The first case in which he used the Fourteenth Amendment as a defense was in 1901. The case in 1901 was to repeal a criminal conviction. Jones lost the case, but never lost faith in the power of the amendment.
For those that don’t know the Fourteenth Amendment Section 1 says the following.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The phrase that Jones continually quoted was “without due process of law.” In the South, during reconstruction and Jim Crow, many blacks were denied access to a fair trial. Often juries had no black members on the jury when race was an issue in the trial. Also, blacks were tortured into a confession or testifying against other black people.
Moore v. Dempsey case was the result of criminal cases that came from the Elaine Massacre. The Elaine Massacre caused the death between 250 to 850 black people. The Massacre was conducted to stop the formation of The Progressive Farmers and Household Workers Union of America, an all-black union. There were 250 black men arrested.
The Governor of Arkansas, Charles Brough, wanted a speedy end to the trial. The first reason was not to impede the upcoming cotton harvest. He needed everyone to feel racial tensions had been eased so blacks would come in to pick the cotton. He also did not want attention from the Federal Government and national press. When the men were arrested on October 2, 1919, whites formed a mob to have another mass lynching in front of the courthouse. Various county officials told the mob to disperse and that the courts will serve justice to the men.
The men were jailed for conspiracy to commit murder. The wealthy men of the town did not want blacks to form a union to get fair pay. The plutocrats then created a rumor that the union was a front for a black insurrection. A “hit list” was supposedly found written by a union member. The full story of the Elaine Massacre can be viewed in this blog under Robert Hill’s leader analysis.
The Governor appointed Committee of Seven composed of County Judges, Mayor of neighboring Helena, and various wealthy cotton farm owners to conduct an investigation. The committee determined the original police patrol was unarmed and in the area to investigate bootlegging. The police patrol was ambushed and unaware of the union meeting. When the second patrol went into Elaine to arrest the men that ambushed the first patrol the second patrol was ambushed. Further police investigation uncovered the “hit list” of planters and only fourteen black people were killed during the arrest of the 285 men.
Another governor-appointed committee that included influential blacks and whites verified the Committee of Seven’s report. Many of Arkansas black elite were willing to comply with the obviously flawed report. Some analysts say the black elite involved in this committee only wanted to further their political influence by cozying up to the governor. Other analysts say they feared retaliation from a governor who recently ordered federal troops to attack civilians. The motivation of the black elite involve in the oversight committee will never be known.
During the investigation, many witnesses against the defense were prisoners captured during the Massacre. These men were tortured until they complied with the story of the Committee of Seven. The Committee of Seven chose the prosecutors, and the judge chose the defense lawyers. Twelve men were picked for the first round of trials. The jury consisted of no blacks and white men that took part in the massacre. The trial resulted in jury deliberations of less than two minutes. All twelve were sentenced to death.
There was a slight problem with the trial. Six of the men were indicted with the phrase. “We, the Jury, find the defendants guilty as charged in the indictment.” the phrase should have been, “We, the Jury, find the defendants guilty of murder in the first degree, as charged in the indictment.” The other six had the correct phrase used. The six sentenced with the incorrect phrase will be known as Ware 6 had their case reversed and had to go back to Philips Co for a retrial. The other six, referred to as the Moore 6, had their case appealed to the State Supreme Court and lost. The Moore 6 had their execution date postponed until the Ware 6 got a retrial. The Moore Six were Frank Moore, Ed Hicks, Frank Hicks, J. C. Knox, Ed Coleman, Paul Hall. The Ware Six were Ed Ware, Alf Banks, J. Martin, Joe Fox, Will Wordlaw, Albert Giles.
Jones knew to free the men he needed to work with many white people to get these convictions overturned. He teamed up with an ex-Confederate soldier Colonel George Murphy to aid in the defense of the Elaine 12. The retrial of the Ware 6 by the county resulted in many black witnesses recanting their story and admitting to being tortured. Unfortunately, the trail led to the reconviction of the Ware 6. Jones, however, set a trap for the county court that allowed for appeal to that Arkansas Supreme Court (ARSC). The ARSC invalidated the second conviction of the Ware 6.
In the case of invalidating the second conviction, the ARSC stated it is not unconstitutional to have an all white jury. However, it is unconstitutional to actively discriminate against black people that could serve on a jury.
In 1921, a new Governor, Thomas McRae, takes charge and wants to decouple the execution of the Ware 6 and the Moore 6. The Moore 6 were now scheduled to be executed June 10, 1921, and the County judge decided not to rule on the Ware 6 until the Moore 6 were executed.
The imminent execution of the Moore 6 forces Jones to race against the clock. He finds an Arkansas judge to stay the execution of the Moore 6. The AR Attorney General appealed the decision to the ARSC. The ARSC held a hearing later that week that resulted in the Governor being allowed to set a new execution date. The prohibition was overturned because it came from and Chancery Court in Pulaski County and the judge did not have jurisdiction in Phillips County. The Governor decided to move the execution date to September 23, 1921.
The addition of three more months allowed Jones to appeal to the Federal District Court. The death of Colonel Murphy, Jones’s partner, earlier in the year caused Jones to partner with another white attorney Edgar McHaney. Working with this white attorney two of the white police officers in the first trial recanted their stories. The state of Arkansas demurred on the grounds the Federal judge did not have jurisdiction over the case. The case was then sent to the United States Supreme Court in the next thirty days.
Jones was able to get the case in front of the USSC. At this point, the State of Arkansas had demurred the facts of the case in the lower court. Demurring the facts means Arkansas could not defend their investigation. The USSC ruled 6 – 2 in favor of Moore. The State of Arkansas had not given Moore a fair trial.
As stated earlier the other 273 arrested in the Elaine massacre plead to second-degree murder. They all were on work detail at Cummins State Farm. By October 1922 all but 15 released from prison.
At this point, the defendants were not free; the USSC ruled they had an unfair trial. Jones petitioned the ARSC for a change of venue to Lee County and won.  In Arkansas if a case is not tried with it two terms of the circuit court, the trial is dismissed. The case of the Ware six had been postponed for two terms. Therefore Ware 6 were freed in 1923. 
A third county trial will either result in the County attempting to take on the Supreme Court or the County Court freeing the Moore 6. Jones gathered enough signatures to petition the Governor to grant a pardon to the twenty-one remaining prisoners. At the same time, Jones petitioned Phillips County officials, including the Committee of Seven, to commute the sentence of the remaining prisoners to time served. Jones finally creates the last compromise for the Moore 6. The defendants did not have to plead guilty, but their sentences were commuted to time served. The Governor promised to release them within twelve months.
Governor McRae released the last seven of the second-degree murder prisoners in 1924. The Moore 6 were still in jail after the original agreement between Jones had been etched. The Governor finally released the prisoners on his last day in office in 1924 after the date of the original agreement on indefinite furloughs.
The Moore v Dempsey case was important because it made the Federal Government the final determinant of the fairness of a local trial. The expanded authority of Federal Courts was pivotal in the Civil Rights movement. Now when Civil Rights protesters and leaders were tried, they could appeal to Federal Courts that were not beholden to local prejudice. Moore v Dempsey was arguably the most important court victory of the century.
No record of Jones’s feelings on race could be found. All the information on Jones’s was particular to a case. Until more information can be found, Jones will be considered Blue Meme. He is strongly committed to the Constitution. The Constitution is a founding document he had no personal input in creating; he is exhibiting Blue Meme values in using it.