President McLendon, Part I: The World War II Era, its Aftermath (1938-48)


Part 4 of 10

George Minor McLendon

     George Minor McLendon, affectionately and universally known as "Mr. Mac", served as president of Hinds Junior College from 1938 until 1965, a remarkable tenure of 27 years. During only the first decade he led the college through the final throes of the Great Depression, the dark days of World War II and the revolution in higher education brought about by the G.I. Bill of Rights.

     Born in rural Jones County in 1895, McLendon attended a one-room country school without running water, through the seventh grade. Upon finishing the eighth grade he sold the turkeys, pigs and cotton that his father had allowed him to raise, for a total of $23.25, packed his worldly possessions in a tin trunk and enrolled at State Normal College (now the University of Southern Mississippi) in Hattiesburg. After two years of study, McLendon in the spring of 1915 earned a teacher's certificate and began his long career in education. Summer studies at Peabody College in Nashville led to a master's degree in 1926, followed by a fellowship at the University of Chicago. In 1931 McLendon accepted a position as superintendent of schools in Newton, Miss. At Hinds President Cain's resignation in 1938, the Hinds board of trustees quickly selected McLendon as his successor.

     Due to funding shortages in the Great Depression, McLendon found the school's physical plant in need of repair. Roads remained unpaved and dusty and there were still only seven campus structures despite a burgeoning enrollment of 510. With economic conditions improving by the late 1930s, the new president launched a campus beautification and construction initiative, including a new football stadium and campus dining hall. Also, a huge cold storage and processing plant opened on campus in 1939.

     Under McLendon, Hinds continued to provide opportunities for young people for whom higher education would have been otherwise unthinkable. One of many examples was Al Gore, who with younger brother Granville arrived at Hinds in August 1938 with the promise of football scholarships. Al Gore admitted in 2005 that up until then "I had never heard of a junior college." He further noted that "athletic scholarships then meant that you got the opportunity to work your way through school." The elder Gore, along with two other boys, milked 40 cows every morning before class. Finally, as a college sophomore, he rose to the plush occupation of floor sweeper. The Gore brothers had outstanding academic and athletic careers at Hinds, with Al later being inducted into both the Hinds and the Mississippi College athletic halls of fame. Like many Hinds students, both served with distinction in World War II, after which Al had a long and distinguished career as a physician.

     The outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939 led to changes in the school's focus and curriculum. Anticipating that the United States might well become entangled in an expanded conflict, Hinds, in early 1940, began a pilot training program for students that combined on-campus classroom instruction with hands-on training at Hawkins Field in Jackson and nearby Raymond Airport (now John Bell Williams Airport). This program expanded rapidly, especially after the eligibility requirement was lowered to age 18 one month after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Offerings in vocational and technical courses in 1942 also quickly expanded to support the war effort. In the fall semester of 1941, Hinds offered only two "shop" courses. By the following spring, work was completed on two large vocational-technical education buildings (located near the current site of the Student Union) with courses offered in shipyard welding, airplane riveting, sheet metal work and auto mechanics.

     Even before American entry into the war, Hinds enrollments began to fall as dozens of students (and prospective students) entered the military. At least one, Keith Joiner of the Hinds class of 1939, was killed in action at Hickam Field, Hawaii, during the bombing of nearby Pearl Harbor.

     In June 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Servicemen's Readjustment Act, better known as the G.I. Bill. Among other things, this monumental legislation provided federal funding for veterans to attend colleges of their choice. Hinds, at war's end in 1945, welcomed a wave of veterans empowered by the G.I. Bill. Enrollments rose more rapidly than physical facilities could comfortably serve. Some veterans were returning to graduate from high school, presenting the peculiar situation of having older combat veterans sitting side-by-side in classrooms with immature 17-year-olds. Also, many veterans were more interested in vocational and technical courses than academic, ensuring that those programs would continue to grow.

     The junior college movement nationally, Hinds included, gained momentum through the recommendations of President Harry S. Truman's Commission on Education in 1947. Calling for increased access to higher education and to vocational-technical training at comprehensive "community" colleges, the commission's report recognized the great contributions of junior colleges nationally and encouraged them to further expand their roles. Indeed, Hinds was only at the dawn of a period of unprecedented growth.