When the former Miro School in New Orleans was renamed the Valena C. Jones Normal School in 1918, it was in recognition of Jones’ “outstanding ability as a teacher and for her uplifting influences among the people of her race.” The school became the fourth public school in New Orleans named for an African American. However, it would not remain the only school named after educator Valena C. Jones as her native city of Bay St. Louis would also honor her with the same recognition in 1947. Such tributes speak to the legacy of Jones as a teacher in both cities.
Valena Cecelia Jones (nee MacArthur) was born to Eldridge and Henrietta MacArthur on August 3, 1872, in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. At eighteen years of age, her teaching career began in rural schools in Hancock County, Mississippi. After she graduated from Straight University in New Orleans in 1892, she returned home and became principal of the Bay St. Louis Negro School. She left that position in 1897 to teach in New Orleans public schools, and during her tenure in the city’s school system, she was voted the most popular colored teacher in the city, for which she was awarded a bicycle.
Although popular, Jones’ time as a teacher in New Orleans was short-lived. Due to rules prohibiting married women from teaching, she left the profession in 1901 to become the wife of Rev. Robert E. Jones, a minister for the Methodist Episcopal Church and the assistant manager of the Southwestern Christian Advocate. The couple would have three children: Grace, Mary, and Robert Jr.
Valena C. Jones’ interest in educational and religious activities did not end, however. When Robert E. Jones was elected to the editorship of the Advocate, his wife joined him in the editing and publishing of the newspaper, which was distributed to 500 ministers and nearly 4000 subscribers in the South. Following her death, Robert E. Jones described the important, though unheralded, role Valena played at the Advocate:
“She had a very large part in whatever success the Southwestern Christian Advocate has attained in the past twelve years. She was not only proof reader, literary editor, but she was an editorial balance wheel. All the Book Numbers were her work. One time she was referred to “as the unsalaried assistant” and that was the only reference that has been made to her except this one in twelve years.”
Valena C. Jones died January 13, 1917, in New Orleans and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery. Although she did not live a long life, her legacy as a teacher lived on in the rich traditions of the Valena C. Jones School in New Orleans, which was one of two elementary schools for African American students in the city’s Seventh Ward. The school became well-regarded for its activities and standards under the leadership of principal Fannie C. Williams, and was visited by Mary McLeod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt during visits to New Orleans. As Dr. Beverley J. Anderson stated in her book Cherished Memories: Snapshots of Life and Lessons from a 1950s New Orleans Creole Village, “The Valena C. Jones School can boast of a proud heritage in educational philosophy and in the contribution of many renown personalities who attribute their success to the foundation received as former pupils.” Prior to its closing in 2008, the Jones school served as a fine testimonial to its namesake, Valena C. Jones, who herself made a mark on the educational systems of New Orleans and Bay St. Louis.
Images from the Robert E. Jones papers. Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.