On the heels of Black History Month, Philander Smith College is pleased to announce a $25,000 gift from Rush and Linda Harding of Little Rock to honor Scipio A. Jones who attended the institution in 1883. Later this year, a commissioned portrait of Jones – painted by Wade Hampton, a Little Rock native now living in New York City – will be hung in the downtown Little Rock post office that bears the name of the pioneering civil rights lawyer.
The lead gift to fund the project, which is estimated at a total of $50,000, is being made by the Hardings who, as longtime supporters, have strong ties to Philander Smith. A former member of the College’s Board of Trustees, in 2018, Rush Harding was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by the institution for his valued service and financial contributions.
“Dr. Rush and Linda Harding have been staunch supporters of Philander Smith College for a very long time,” said Roderick L. Smothers, Sr. president of Philander Smith College. “Their latest act of generosity to ensure that a portrait of our alumnus, Scipio A. Jones, is placed in the post office that bears his name is just another example of how they continuously seek ways to lift up Philanderians and our institution.”
Born to an enslaved person in Tulip, Ark., Scipio Africanus Jones attended Walden Seminary (now Philander Smith College) before receiving his bachelor’s degree from Shorter College in North Little Rock. Denied admittance to law school because of his race, Jones passed the Arkansas Bar in 1889 after serving legal apprenticeships and was admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court bar in 1905.
Jones is perhaps best known for his skillful dense of the Elaine 12 during the Elaine Race Riots of 1919 when twelve Black sharecroppers were wrongly charged and sentenced to death by an all-white jury for their alleged involvement in the murder of a white man. As another 87 other Black men were convicted for participating in the ensuing riots, Jones was hired as the defense attorney for all 99 of the convicted men in a case that was heard before the United States Supreme Court.
“In 1969, I was in the first totally integrated class in Clarendon, Ark., where I am from. Elaine schools played in Clarendon’s conference in sports and I have vivid memories of my Black teammates being apprehensive about traveling there to play because their grandparents shared with them what took place in 1919,” said Rush Harding. “This is why as stakeholders in Philander Smith College, Linda and I are honored to make this gift to honor such a distinguished Arkansan and Philander Smith alumnus.”
Signed into law in December 2020, it was legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. French Hill (R-AR) that is allowing the Scipio A. Jones Post Office Building located at 1700 Main Street in Little Rock, just minutes from the Philander Smith campus, to “accept and display” a portrait of Jones’ likeness.