Hinds Community College: The Beginning

 

Part 1 of 10

America's Community Colleges: the First Century

"The American community college movement is the most important higher education innovation of the twentieth century."

     In 2001, as the American community college movement began its second century, nearly twelve million people were enrolled in community college courses offered by almost 1,800 institutions located in every state in the union. Statewide facilities ranged from the enormous California system, with 109 public community colleges (plus 13 independent and one tribal), to Rhode Island with one public and one private institution. Community and junior college graduates included obstetricians, child care specialists, teachers, principals, electricians, dieticians, attorneys, computer technologists, bankers, bricklayers, members of Congress, astronauts, nurses, policemen, hair stylists, commercial artists, scientists, university professors, musicians, writers, and morticians, just to name a few. From controversial and somewhat obscure origins, the community college had clearly become a titan in American education.

     The first true junior college - forerunner of the more comprehensive community college - was established in 1901 when Peoria (Illinois) High School offered college freshman courses to six students. Other public high schools, especially in Illinois and California soon followed Peoria's lead, while in Texas, Missouri, and other states a number of small, private colleges "decapitated" their last two years of instruction to become junior colleges. A 1918 study concluded that 39 public high schools and at least 93 former four-year colleges offered junior college curricula.

     Mississippi's entry in the burgeoning junior college movement was indirect, unplanned, and unique. In 1908 the state Legislature attempted to provide better educational opportunities for rural students by allowing county school boards to establish boarding agricultural high schools. These were to concentrate on agricultural education for boys and home economics for girls, but were also to provide a full curriculum in traditional academic subjects. There was no expectation that, with one exception, the future Mississippi junior and community colleges would evolve from these institutions.

     By 1920 over 50 agricultural high schools were in operation. Among them was Hinds County Agricultural High School, which opened in Raymond in the fall of 1917. The Hinds County towns of Clinton, Edwards, and Utica had also made bids to the county school board, but Raymond, with its central location and offer of land and other support, gained the board's approval in May 1916. The town subsequently issued bonds in the amount of $5,000, and in February 1917 purchased about 45 acres of land that became the campus of the agricultural high school. It remains the heart of the Hinds Community College Raymond Campus.

     Local lore held that the land had belonged to the captain of the Confederate ironclad Merrimac (correctly C.S.S. Virginia) in its clash with the U.S.S. Monitor in the Civil War in 1862. In fact, previous owner John R. Eggleston had been a lieutenant on the Merrimac and only later rose to the rank of captain. Doubtless, his Raymond neighbors called him "Captain" and with the passage of time confused his later rank with service on the Merrimac.

     Hinds County supervisors provided $75,000 for capital construction, which quickly commenced on three brick buildings on a semi-ellipse just north of the Raymond-Jackson highway. These were matching two-story brick dormitories for girls and boys, and a three-story administration and classroom building. Of these, only the girls dormitory, now Pickett Main Residence Hall, survives. A brick power plant, wooden home for the school superintendent (now the site of Dukes-Riggs Hall), barn, and implement shed completed the original campus. By January 1918 a chicken house had been added, described by the Hinds County Gazette as "a thing of beauty."

     At first, landscaping was lacking. Construction photos show clearly that the future campus had been planted in cotton only the year before, and muddy paths ran everywhere. A wire fence separated the campus from the highway.

     With construction of the dormitories and classroom building completed, the campus opened on September 5 with a "mammoth" meeting of the State Conference of Teachers, who boarded in the new dorms. They were treated to a concert, moving picture, and baseball game.

     A few days later, on September 9, 1917, Superintendent W.N. Taylor and ten staff members greeted 117 eager and not-so-eager students. (One student, Lola Allen of Raymond, later known simply as "the bookkeeper," was to have an on-campus career lasting until 1966.) Certainly no one involved had the slightest inkling that from this small beginning a great institution of community service would evolve, one that ninety years later enrolled over 16,000 students in a multi-campus district. Hinds Community College was in the process of being born.