President McClendon, Part II: Transformation 1948-1965
Part 5 of 10
College Expansion Under Pres. McLendon
George M. McLendon assumed the presidency of Hinds Junior College in 1938. Seven buildings, three of them dating to 1917, comprised the heart of the campus.
Streets were unpaved and dusty, and student enrollment hovered at about 500. By the time of his retirement in 1965, McLendon had overseen a physical and curricular transformation undreamed of at the start of his tenure. By 1947 the campus was in a process of transition. New men's and women's dorms completed that year (now Williams and Allen Whitaker halls) flanked the older buildings, while a large new cafeteria (now Moss Hall) improved food services for a rapidly growing enrollment. The following year saw completion of a new science building and a music hall (both razed in the early 1970s). The most unique "new" structures were a number of former military barracks placed over a large area on the north side of the campus (approximately the current locations of McLendon Library, Beemon Hall and Gibbes Hall). These were divided into apartments for married students-largely veterans-and faculty.
In March 1950, the Old Science Building (the original administration and classroom building) burned to the ground, leaving the women's (then Main; now Pickett Hall) and men's dorms (then Shangri-La; razed in 1971) as the only surviving original structures. Two new buildings, the Administration Building and Academic Building (now Harris-Patrick Hall) opened for the spring 1952 semester on the former site of the Old Science Building. These construction efforts paled in comparison to McLendon's vision of a long-range "Futurama" conceived by the mid-1950s.
This included plans for a large, modern science building completed in 1958 (now Beemon Hall), a large vocational-technical complex to replace the structures dating from 1942 (covered in a previous issue of On Campus) and a women's gym (now Bee Hall) with wall-to-wall mirrors for Hi-Steppers practice. Three new dorms-two for men-opened in 1959 (now Virden, Greaves and Marshall halls). However, McLendon's crowning building achievement was construction of a new library at the center of the campus that bears his name, dedicated shortly before his retirement in May 1965.
Changes in the college's student body and curriculum reflected the national trend to provide educational access to a broader clientele. Vocational and technical offerings multiplied, and night classes were offered for the first time in 1954. In the fall 1957 semester college enrollment exceeded 1,000, and in 1958, Hinds discontinued its high school program, which dated to 1917. Improvements in transportation, busses and affordable automobiles led to increasing numbers of commuters.
With continuous growth and a more diverse student body, Hinds inevitably began to gradually lose its "family" atmosphere in which everyone knew everyone else. The 1950s was the golden age of junior college football, and Hinds was at the forefront. The 1952 and 1953 Eagle squads under Coach Les DeVall shared state titles with 9-1 and 9-0-1 records, respectively, but the 1954 team reached unprecedented heights. Coached by Joe Renfroe and led on the field by center-linebacker Durwood Graham, tackle Earl Leggett and halfback Olin Renfroe, the Eagles claimed a national championship after winning the Junior Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. A crowd of nearly 62,000 ranked third among all bowls-including the Rose, Sugar and Cotton.
Graham and Leggett went on to star at Louisiana State University, and Leggett had a lengthy career as a player and coach in the National Football League. The 1957 Eagles, led by C.J. Alexander, Melvin Champagne and Raymond Abruzzese, also went 10-0, outscoring opponents 318-46. DeVall, Graham, Leggett and Alexander were later inducted into the National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Fame; Graham and Leggett currently live in Raymond. (Other Hinds NJCAA Hall of Famers are William M. "Bucky" McElroy and Green Bay Packers star and NFL Hall of Farmer James "Jim" Taylor.) The emergence of the Hinds Hi-Steppers as symbols of the college and "Mississippi's Goodwill Ambassadors" paralleled the college's success on the gridiron.
The nation's third oldest precision dance team, the group found its leader in Anna Cowden Bee, who began working as full-time Hi-Steppers director in 1953 and continues in that position today-an incredible tenure of 54 years. The Hi-Steppers, known for their trademark kicks and costumes, became fixtures at state functions, Mardi Gras parades, major football bowl games, fund raisers and numerous other venues.
"Mr. Mac's" 27-year tenure at Hinds ended in 1965 when he reached the mandatory state retirement age of 70. In that span, he had overseen the transformation of a small, dusty, rural junior college agricultural high school into a modern, dynamic institution serving an ever-growing and changing student body. Further change was on the horizon.