Valena Cecilia McArthur Jones
- by Rebecca Orfila
As recalled by Beverly Jacques Anderson, PhD., in her 2011 book, Cherished Memories, the motto of the Valena C. Jones Normal School in New Orleans was “Providing physical, mental, moral, and social training for every child; helping him to stand firm under the pressures of life.” Those same standards were exhibited by the school’s namesake during the difficult times of school and social segregation and the limited number of educational opportunities for African-Americans. Despite the spare working opportunities for women in general, Valena Cecelia MacArthur Jones, a Bay St. Louis native, made the best of the circumstances and became a well-respected educator and community leader in Bay St. Louis and New Orleans.
While her name is recognizable to many, it may not be known that as a woman of mixed heritage, Valena Jones served as teacher, principal, editor, and mother during a period of racial segregation in the South. Born on August 3, 1872 to Eldridge and Henrietta (Knight) MacArthur of Shieldsborough, Valena was teaching in rural schools in Hancock County by the time she turned eighteen (1890). In 1892, she graduated from Straight College, a historically black college founded by the American Missionary Association and operated from 1868 until 1934 in New Orleans. The school eventually merged with New Orleans University to form Dillard University.
After her marriage, Valena helped her husband edit and publish the Southwestern Christian Advocate, a periodical of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Three years following her death in 1917, Rev. Robert E. Jones, Valena’s husband, was elected Bishop of the New Orleans Area (central Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas).
Three centers of education and spirituality were named in her honor since her death: Valena C. Jones School in New Orleans and Bay St. Louis, and the Valena C. Jones United Methodist Church on Sycamore Street in Bay St. Louis.
The 1918 school was the first structure named in honor of Valena Jones. Due to its growing enrollment, the small school was replaced in 1929 with an impressive brick, three-story structure. According to the Chicago World issue of November 2, 1929, the school was “named after Mrs. Valena MacArthur Jones, formerly a teacher in the public school system in recognition of her outstanding ability as a teacher and for her uplifting influences among the people of her race.”
Back in Bay St. Louis, St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church provided religious education to the black population and was originally located on Washington Street in Bay St. Louis. The first structure was replaced in 1922 with a larger church. Built in 1880 to provide religious education and support for blacks in the area, growing attendance levels required the construction of a larger church in 1922.
Daniels waited impatiently until he turned six to attend Valena C. Jones Public School in Bay St. Louis. Daniels attended from first through tenth grades, the highest level attainable at the school. Following Jones School, he attended St. Rose and completed his high school graduation with the class of 1931. While reminiscing, he praised his English teacher, Grace Claudia Jones Minor, one of Valena Jones’ daughters.
Mrs. Jones died in New Orleans in 1917. She was interred in Greenwood Cemetery. The grave is unmarked but can be found in Plot 515, Pine Cedar Aloe, Daughters of Louisiana, Gravesite 5.
If anyone has more information about Valena C. Jones and would like to add to the historical record of her life, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.