The History of The Piney Woods School

In the spring of 1909, a young black man came to a desperately poor section of Mississippi, located approximately 21 miles southeast of Jackson and known as the piney woods. Born in St. Joseph, Missouri, and educated at the University of Iowa where he graduated in 1907, Dr. Laurence C. Jones saw the need for schooling among poor blacks in rural Rankin County. He made the acquaintance of both blacks and whites in the piney woods area and finally won their confidence. His task was not easy. He was almost lynched by a group of angry white men who thought he was preaching against white people. By the grace of God, he survived the rope.

Dr. Jones started The Piney Woods School with one student; but soon others came, young and old alike, with only a burning desire to learn. The people in the area saw the earnestness and honesty of the young teacher. They contributed lumber, nails, and small amounts of goods and money to the effort.

From the beginning, The Piney Woods School’s curriculum consisted of vocational subjects along with the three “R’s.” Dr. Jones felt that many of his students would not go on to higher education and must be prepared to earn a living at a useful trade.

In May 1913, at the end of its fifth year, the school received a charter from the governor of Mississippi. Many teachers, black and white, joined the staff and worked for little or no salary as the school endeavored to train teachers for the State Department of Education and to teach handicapped and blind children. In 1950, through the influence of Helen Keller, a special school for the blind was established, and the Piney Woods blind students were transferred to that institution.

A new era in the history of The Piney Woods School began with the appointment of Dr. James S. Wade in 1974 as the second president of the school. A prominent educator from Columbus, Ohio, Dr. Wade came to Piney Woods School and, among other achievements, strengthened the occupational training that had distinguished the school’s curriculum since its inception. Under Dr. Wade’s leadership the school received reaffirmation of accreditation from the State of Mississippi and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 1976.

In August of 1984, Dr. Charles H. Beady, Jr., was ap pointed to serve the school as Provost. On July 1,1985, the Board of Directors appointed Dr. Beady as the third president in the illustrious history of the institution. His primary goals were to build upon the accomplishments of the Founder, Dr. Laurence C. Jones, and President Emeritus, Dr. James S. Wade, by educating the HEAD, HEART, and HANDS of Piney Woods students, fostering academic excellence, and preparing the students for the challenges of the 21st century.

Beginning July 1, 2006, Rev. Dr. Reginald T.W. Nichols served as the fourth president of the school, for a period of nearly seven years. 

Effective July 14, 2014, the school’s Board of Directors appointed Willie Levi Crossley, Jr., Esq., as the fifth president and the first alumnus (class of 1990) to head the school.  After 25 years in the fields of education, law and civil rights, Mr. Crossley resigned a United States Presidential appointment to return to Mississippi to ensure the continuation of the promising legacy of which he is a direct beneficiary.  He aims to provide every student the most excellent education and their due opportunity to compete and serve among side the very best in the world, which is their rightful station.

Since all of the students receive financial assistance in the form of work and scholarships, fund raising has always been extremely important to the survival of Piney Woods. 

The school’s original endowment was created when Dr. Jones appeared on the This Is Your Life program, which recreated his inspiring career and resulted in thousands of donations amounting to more than $700,000. When Dr. Jones died, the school’s endowment had grown to approximately $7,000,000, and during the administration of Dr. James Wade the endowment more than doubled.

Each year since Dr. Jones’ death in 1975, the school has held a Founder’s Day Ceremony with distinguished guest speakers such as Ralph Edwards of This Is Your Life, U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, former Mississippi First Lady Elise Winter, and U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn Kilpatrick, to name a few.

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