President Cain and the Great Depression: 1930-38

 

Part 3 of 10

During the Depression

     George Judson George Judson "Jud" Cain succeeded R.E.L. Sutherland as president of Hinds Junior College in the spring semester of 1930 and served in that position through the 1937-38 academic year. A native of Learned, Miss., only a few miles from Raymond, he taught in the public schools of Hinds County from 1914 to 1918, spent a year in the U.S. Army and in 1919 joined the faculty of Hinds County Agricultural High School as an instructor of mathematics.

     In 1923 he earned a bachelor's degree from Peabody College, followed by a master's in 1927. In a stroke of bad timing, he assumed the Hinds presidency only a few weeks after the crash of the American stock market in October 1929, an event that ushered in the Great Depression of the 1930s. In the meantime, in April 1928, the Mississippi Legislature passed laws creating the first state system of junior colleges in the United States. Of prime importance, a new Commission of Junior Colleges divided the state into 13 junior college districts, each to be served by one school to avoid replication and competition. Also in 1928 the Legislature for the first time provided state funds to supplement the junior colleges' local levies. Mississippi's entry into junior college education, legally begun only in 1922, was already a resounding success.

     Through the Great Depression, student enrollment at Hinds grew steadily, as the institution provided work opportunities for young people to pay for room and board while receiving a quality education. In September 1929, room and board for in-county students was $16 per month. By 1933 this had dropped to $12.50, a decrease of about 20 percent. Students could work 20 hours a month to qualify for a reduced room and board rate of $10 per month. (Twenty hours labor to save $2.50 equaled a pay scale of 12 1/2 cents an hour.) Despite draconian rules of conduct and the lack of "modern" means of entertainment (sorry, no video games or cell phones), campus life was vibrant. After-class academic organizations, all with sizable memberships, included the Engineering Club, Latin Club, Spanish Circle, Home Economics Club and Math Club. Iota Gamma and Alpha Beta literary societies flourished. Religious organizations such as the Epworth League and the Baptist Student Union were especially popular. (Established in 1932, the Hinds BSU claimed to be the first at a junior college in the South.)

     Performing arts organizations included a band, glee club, jazz orchestra and a theater troupe with more than 50 members. An excellent student newspaper, The Hindsonian, started publication in 1933. On a statewide level, competition between junior colleges in academics, performing arts and athletics was lively, with the school earning the most points in combined events and winning a state championship trophy. Hinds consistently excelled in the academic and performing ("platform") events, but had a less-than-overwhelming athletic reputation. With state and local funds for education declining, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal" created several federal agencies to provide assistance. Two, the Public Works Administration (PWA) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA), left lasting marks at Hinds.

     Taking advantage of a $37,000 PWA grant and further local support, Hinds in 1936 began construction of a new gymnasium and a men's dormitory, both of which were completed the following year. Now Denton Hall and Williams Hall respectively, they represented the only major on-campus construction since the completion of the Auditorium Building (later Cain Hall) in 1926. Also in 1936 the WPA constructed Raymond Lake a short distance from the campus, thus providing a recreational site for generations of Hinds students. Grady L. Sheffield exemplified the student of the Cain era.

     He matriculated at Hinds in 1935, first earning his keep on the school farm behind "Big Mama," a notoriously recalcitrant mule. Streets were gravel and dusty and conditions in the dorms spartan. Roommates shared toiletries and clothes as needed. Winter nights were often uncomfortable because, as a cost-saving measure, no coal was added to the campus boiler after 10 p.m. and temperatures plummeted until morning. During his two years at Hinds, Sheffield had no cash income, working on the farm, shoveling coal or cutting grass for credit against room and board. By the fall of 1936 he had worn out all his clothes.

     He reluctantly told Cain, who handed him $10 with no mention of repayment. Overcoming these hardships, Sheffield thrived academically, athletically and socially in Hinds' family-like atmosphere. His sophomore year he started at tackle on the football team, was elected class president and president of Phi Theta Kappa, served as editor-in-chief of The Hindsonian and won first place in the state contest in analytical geometry. Sheffield retired as Hinds business manager in 1978 after 40 years of service to the institution. After leading Hinds through the worst of the Depression years, Cain in 1938 joined the Mississippi State Department of Education as director of the division of Administration and Finance, a post he held for 20 years.

His Hinds successor, George M. McLendon would lead the institution until 1965.