Valena Cecilia McArthur Jones
A church and two schools bear her name: Valena C. Jones. Her life wasn't a long one, but she left a lasting legacy.
- by Rebecca Orfila
Following her matriculation, Jones was named principal of the Bay St. Louis Negro School where she taught until 1897 when she accepted a position in New Orleans at McDonough School #24. During the McDonough teaching period, 1897 to 1901, Jones was voted the most popular black teacher in the city. When she married Rev. Robert Elijah Jones of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1901, her career as an educator ended. Married women were not allowed to teach in public schools at that time.
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.
Beginning in 1910, a citizens group in New Orleans 7th Ward saw the need in their community for a neighborhood school. Between fundraisers like dinners and dances, the group was able to purchase four acres for the construction of a small school. The first school was destroyed by weather events in 1916 and was replaced by a new structure built in 1918 near the intersection of Annette Street and North Miro Street.
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.
The influence of Valena McArthur Jones did not stop at the conclusion of her life or with the construction of the buildings that carry her name. In an oral history conducted by the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage, Alonzo Merdis Daniels recollected excitement as a youngster for attending school “with the other fellows in our community.”
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.
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