Valena C. Jones School, completed in 1929.
The history of Valena C. Jones Elementary School goes all the way back to 1905 when a small group of men known as the Seventh Ward Educational League, and led by the late Rev. Alfred Lawless, came together for one purpose; to obtain a public elementary school for the boys and girls of their community. Prior to this time, no such school existed for children of color in the Seventh Ward. Receiving an education at that time was dependent upon your parents’ ability to send you to one of the few private schools located in the area.
Determined to purchase grounds for such a school, the League began to sponsor fairs, parties, fish fries and picnics. As a result, they were able to purchase four lots at the corner of Miro and Annette Streets with the intention of having the Orleans Parish School Board provide the building. To their disappointment, the Board refused due to a lack of money at that time.
The League decided to temporarily lease an old tenement known as the Bucket of Blood Tenement across from Beecher Memorial Church. This tenement had long been an eye sore and known as a place of corruption, vice and loose living. The building (after being cleaned and repaired by the maintenance department of the School Board) along with the Beecher Memorial Church served as the first public school for the children of the Seventh Ward from 1911 to 1915. Miss Hattie V. Feger was its first principal.
Suddenly, on September 15,1915, the worst hurricane in years struck and the school was completely demolished. Three days later, all the students returned and classes were held in various locations. Grades 1-3 were housed in Beecher Memorial Church. Grades 4-6 were sent to an old corner grocery store. Grades 7-8 used the living and dining room of the homes of several families. In spite of it all, learning still continued.
After the 1915 storm, the community leaders went back to the School Board with a request to build a school on the four lots they had originally purchased. This time the Board agreed and construction began. On March 31,1916 students moved into a one-story twelve room building. It was opened as the Miro School.
It was during the 1917- 1918 school year that the Miro School was changed to Valena C. Jones Elementary, in honor of the memory of Valena Cecilia Mc Arthur Jones, a devoted public school teacher and wife of Bishop Robert E. Jones.
On April 11,1921, Miss Fannie C. Williams became the new principal and a campaign was started that spring for a new three story brick building. In 1927, Dr. J.A. Hardin, president of the newly formed Seventh Ward Civic League took up this cause. Members assisting him were A.P.Tureaud, Alex Mollay, Oscar Daste, Remy Despinasse, R.E. Felton, G.J. McKenna, Morris Lewis, Albert Chapital, Albert Blandin, and Rev. M. Williams. They worked tirelessly to get the Orleans Parish School Board to build a new school. The league even purchased additional land for a playground and set aside $500.00 for a library if the Board approved their proposal. Finally, on January 13,1928, the Board agreed and a quarter of a million dollars was set aside for this purpose. Elated boys and girls entered their long needed new building at the beginning of the 1929-1930 session.
In October, 1929 over two thousand people attended dedication ceremonies for the new Valena C. Jones, considered one of the best equipped school buildings in this section of the country. The three-story brick structure is shown in the above photo. Even though it was designed to accommodate 1600 students, by the mid 1930s there were 2,800 pupils. The name was changed to Valena C Jones Normal and Practice School after a two year Normal School was added whose purpose was to certify teachers to teach in the black public schools of New Orleans. A nursery school sponsored by the WPA was housed on the first floor. Miss Williams was principal of all departments while the community and the school it fought to build would continue to grow together.
Sources: photo taken from Crescent City Schools (Public Education in New Orleans 1841-1991) Donald E. DeVore and Joseph Logsdon ,1991 USL; The Louisiana Weekly 30 June 1934 p.11; The Lucille Hutton Collection, Box 17- Folder 5 (Amistad Research Center).