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American public school students might learn about the Dred Scott v. Sandford case early in high school, then perhaps Plessy v. Ferguson as juniors, and maybe onto Marbury v. Madison in 12th grade--if they're lucky enough to attend a school that still teaches civics.

It may take until pre-law before Miranda comes up in discussion. And law school itself before exploring New York Times v. Sullivan.

No telling when Moore v. Dempsey is covered in school these days, but as a court case that changed the country, it's underrated.

The good old days were anything but good for any number of people. Especially black sharecroppers looking to organize in Phillips County, Ark., in the fall of 1919.

In a sign of the times, after a shooting and confrontation at a church, white folks gathered in mobs to put down a "black insurrection." In a sign of the times, the newspapers inflamed those tensions with irresponsible reporting. In a sign of the times, the black folks who weren't shot down in the streets were gathered up and arrested. In a sign of the times, the black men who weren't tortured into confessions were given short trials. (Their lawyers didn't even meet some of them until after the trials began.) In a sign of the times, the black defendants, after a few minutes of deliberations by all-white juries, were given the chair.

In a sign of the times, nothing more was expected for these black citizens than prejudice, injustice and death by the state.

You can read about the Elaine Race Riots, or as it's sometimes called, the Elaine Massacre, in the history books--or better yet, in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas online. But after these all-white juries convicted a dozen or more black men, and put them on death row, a lawyer named Scipio A. Jones got involved.

Scipio A. Jones, and other lawyers, guided these cases through the appeals. After years of argument, the United States Supreme Court finally ruled that the federal courts could indeed rectify state cases to ensure people (of all colors) could get due process. In the Elaine case, it was hard to argue due process when white mobs made up the juries.

Moore v. Dempsey was as important to due process as other cases were to education or freedom of the press. And in the middle of it all, pushing the country into the right direction, was a black lawyer from Little Rock, born a slave during The War.

Scipio Africanus Jones is called a great Arkansan today, and a great lawyer, not to mention a great human. But like most of those who fought for Civil Rights, he wasn't granted such tributes in many quarters in his own time. Much like another Southern black man the country celebrates this week.

Arkansas' congressional delegation is seeking to make amends, somewhat. Two bills filed by French Hill and John Boozman would honor Counselor Jones with a portrait in the Little Rock post office that already bears his name. Private funds will take care of the painting, but as French Hill put it in the papers, to hang the thing takes an Act of Congress.

So an Act of Congress it will be.

The legislation is already on track. And we can't imagine arguments against its passage.

As another champion of Civil Rights once noted, we should do this with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, and so let us strive to finish the work we are in. To achieve and cherish a just, and lasting, peace.

Scipio Jones deserves to be remembered. So do his clients.

Editorial on 01/21/2020

Print Headline: Scipio A. Jones

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