In this post, Blog Editor Amanda Lyons and Alanna Patrick, director of Paper Archives, take a look at the history of the Piney Woods School.
In 1955, Lawrence Clifton Jones, founder of The Piney Woods School, was honored with a special state celebration in Mississippi during which Governor Hugh White declared him “Mississippi’s First Citizen.” Jones continued to serve as president of Piney Woods until his retirement in 1974. In 1981, he became the first African American to be admitted to the Mississippi Hall of Fame.
The Piney Woods School, Rankin County, was founded in 1909 by Laurence Clifton Jones with the purpose of providing the rural African American community with academic, moral, and practical training in agricultural and industrial trades. Jones began teaching informally under a cedar tree in the fall of 1909. Within three months, he had twenty-nine students. By the start of school in the autumn of 1910, Piney Woods had five teachers and a student body of one hundred that included adults as well as children.
At first, the faculty taught adults and children together; there was no organized class system. By 1918, the school was divided into grades, including an elementary school. From 1923 through the early 1950s, the elementary students were taught at the Rosenwald Elementary School on the Piney Woods campus. The elementary school was discontinued in the early 1980s, revived with a pre-kindergarten program and discontinued again in 1995.
Piney Woods grew during the early twentieth century through a combination of self-sufficiency, private contributions, and effective public relations. The students and faculty built the first buildings at Piney Woods, quarrying limestone and making bricks. The family of George W. Dulaney of Iowa contributed funds for the construction of a girls’ dormitory. The building, completed in 1921, was named Dulaney Hall in honor of the family.
Under Jones, who stressed the dignity of labor, Piney Woods focused on academic subjects that could be applied practically to agriculture and the mastery of two or three trades. Girls as well as boys were taught practical skills. Grace Morris Allen Jones (wife of Laurence C. Jones) taught English and handicrafts, such as sewing and weaving, at the school. Jones also organized activities for women in the community, including a Mother’s Club, which taught the women of the area housekeeping methods, sewing, childcare, and nutritional practices.
Day, Beth. The Little Professor of Piney Woods: The Story of Professor Laurence Jones. New York: Julian Messner, Inc., 1955.
Harrison, Alferdteen B. Piney Woods School: An Oral History. Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi, 1982.
Piney Woods School. “History of the Piney Woods School,” 2007. Online <http://www.pineywoods.org/about/history.asp>. (accessed June 21, 2010).
Purcell, Leslie Harper. Miracle in Mississippi: Laurence C. Jones of Piney Woods. New York: Comet Press Books, 1956.