Scipio A. Jones portrait unveiling scheduled for Feb. 24 at downtown Main Street Post Office

Scipio A. Jones portrait unveiling scheduled for Feb. 24 at downtown Main Street Post Office

BCN Staff – Feb. 14, 2022 – The highly anticipated unveiling of the full-sized portrait of Scipio A. Jones will take place on Feb. 24 at the Main Street Post Office in Little Rock that bears his name, according to several sources.

The life-size portrait of Jones symbolizes the famed civil rights attorney walking out of the federal courthouse. It was painted by Arkansas artist Wade Hampton, and was facilitated by Hearne Fine Art, local law firm Gills, Ragon, Owen PA, and the Central Arkansas Library System.

Under the federal law sponsored by Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, and signed into law in December 2020, more than $50,000 for the portrait were raised privately and no taxpayer money were spent on the artwork. Rep. Hill first introduced legislation to allow a full-sized portrait of Jones to be on display at the post office that bears his name in 2019 after the Arkansas legislature passed a bill to name the post office located at 1700 Main St. in Little Rock after Jones.

Today, a plaque at the post office bears Jones’ name, but post office regulations restrict the items that can be placed on display, including a portrait of the post office’s namesake. Hill’s bill permits the postmaster of the downtown Scipio A. Jones Post Office the one-time authority to accept and display civil rights icon’s portrait in the lobby of the downtown facility.

“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. In the wake of the Elaine Race Massacre in 1919, Mr. Jones bravely and successfully defended twelve African American sharecroppers who had been wrongfully charged in connection to a crime they didn’t commit and placed on death row,” Rep. Hill said after H.R. 3317 was signed into law on Dec. 4, 2020. “I am pleased that my bill, the Scipio Jones Post Office Portrait Act, finally has been signed into law to allow current and future generations to appreciate fully Mr. Jones’s critical role in shaping Arkansas’s history and the fight for equality.”

Hills’ office did not respond to a request for comments about the upcoming Feb. 24 portrait unveiling honoring Jones.

Named after a Roman general, Scipio Africanus Jones was born near the small community of Tulip, Arkansas, in Dallas County. Driven to succeed, Jones 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 Elaine Massacre of 1919, Jones defended 12 wrongly accused Black men, the Elaine 12, who had been charged with murder and condemned to death by all-white juries. 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 precedent-setting ruling allowed 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 sought to ensure that those accused of a crime had received due process. (See recent story here.)

Ahead of the portrait unveiling next week, the Dunbar Historic Neighborhood Association, Dunbar/Horace Mann Archive Development Foundation, and The Descendants of the Elaine Massacre are planning a presentation on Feb. 19 concerning Jones at the downtown Sue Cowan Williams library. The event will focus on why Jones is relevant to the Elaine Massacre and offer details of ongoing rehabilitation efforts to his former home on Cross Street in the Dunbar Historic District.

“The (Feb. 19) date is significant because this is also the date the Moore v. Dempsey ruling came down from the U.S. Supreme Court,” Garbo Hearne, owner of Hearne Fine Art, told The two upcoming events occur as there has been a renewed interest locally and nationally concerning Jones’ legal exploits and legacy in the post-George Floyd era. In October, a grant in the amount of $3,500 was awarded to the Dunbar/Horace Mann Foundation for developing a book or brochure about the Little Rock attorney, educator, judge, philanthropist, and politician.

As noted, the local foundation is working to restore Jones’ home at 1872 S. Cross St. in Little Rock with the goal of using the building to house memorabilia from these historic Black schools and Jones’ career, including his work guiding appeals of the 12 African American men condemned to death after the Elaine Massacre.

Also in December, reported Emmy award-winning actor Sterling K. Brown will soon portray the famous civil right icon and bring the story to the movie screen. According to a Nov. 17 story by Hollywood entertainment news blog Deadline, Searchlight Pictures has snapped up E. Nicholas Mariani’s 2018 Black List script The Defender, which George Tillman Jr. will direct with three-time Emmy-winning Brown starring as the heroic lawyer in post-slavery Arkansas. (Read the full story here.)

Brown will produce the upcoming movie with 21 Laps’ Shawn Levy and Dan Cohen. Mariani and Danielle Reardon will executive produce with Dantram Nguyen, Katie Goodson-Thomas and Richard Ruiz overseeing for Searchlight. Ben Wilkinson, VP Business Affairs and Legal Counsel, negotiated the deal for Searchlight along with WME and CAA on behalf of filmmakers.


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