Arkansas civil rights champion honored with legislation backed by Rep. French Hill

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Congressman French Hill announced on Friday that his bill, H.R. 3317, the Scipio Jones Post Office Portrait Act, was signed into law.

Rep. Hill’s bill will honor Arkansas civil rights champion and lawyer, Scipio Jones, by allowing his portrait to be displayed in the Little Rock post office that bears Jones’s name.

This achievement was inspired by the collaboration between Little Rock attorney John Gill and historian Dr. Brian Mitchell of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Rep. Hill with Dr. Brian Mitchell

“I extend my thanks to Rep. Hill for his efforts to introduce and pass this legislation recognizing Scipio Africanus Jones and his fight for racial equality.” said Dr. Mitchell.  “Scipio Jones played an important role in Arkansas’s history, especially in the volatile aftermath of the Elaine Massacre, and I am excited to see him honored in this way.”

Scipio Africanus Jones, who was born an enslaved person in 1863, attended Walden Seminary (now Philander Smith College) and then attended Bethel Institute (now Shorter College), earning his bachelor’s degree in 1885. In 1889, Jones passed the bar and was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of Arkansas in 1900 and by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1905.

After the horrific massacre of Black Americans in Elaine, Arkansas, in 1919, he defended 12 wrongly accused Black men who had been charged with murder and condemned by all-white juries.

Scipio Jones with Elaine Massacre Defendants

Despite its being described as a “race riot,” most of the victims were Black, and most of the aggressors were white. With his clients already facing execution, Jones fought their convictions in both state and federal courts. An appeal was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the accused had been denied due process of law. After reviewing the case, the Supreme Court agreed and overturned the convictions. Moore v. Dempsey changed the nature of the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause. The ruling allowed for federal courts to hear and examine evidence in state criminal cases to ensure that the defendants’ constitutional rights were protected. It was a landmark ruling that fundamentally changed American law by ensuring that those accused of a crime had received due process.

“Here in Arkansas, we are deeply proud of Scipio Jones and his important contributions to our state, and to our nation, as a civil rights icon and lawyer.” said Rep. Hill.

“Soon after having the idea to include a portrait of Scipio Jones in the Scipio A. Jones Post Office in Little Rock, I discovered that this gesture would take an act of Congress to accomplish – literally,” said Gill. “I hope this portrait will inspire our citizens and young Arkansans to follow in Mr. Jones’s footsteps.”

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