What is missing from the piece of a long record of historically black college and university (HBCU) credentials is the hidden history of Saints Industrial and Literary School. The campus remains still stands present in Lexington, Mississippi. It all started when the founder and first president, Dr. Arenia Cornelia Mallory, was invited by Charles Harrison Mason to serve as a music teacher at a local religious school for black students in Lexington, Mississippi.
Later, she organized five singers and toured them to raise money for the school. She then developed a larger school chorus, named the Jubilee Harmonizers, who traveled and became nationally famous. They eventually performed at the White House for President Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt. Their touring helped to raise funding for what become known as the Saints Industrial and Literary School. The institution was a secondary private school for students in grades 1-12. It was later renamed and called Saints Academy. She educated an estimated of 20,000 students through Saints.
The affiliation of the school is with the Pentecostal Church of God in Christ (COGIC); Mallory served as its president from 1926 until 1977. In 1975, she was recognized as the only black college woman president. The campus was developed to have classrooms and dormitories, and a junior college department was produced before 1963. Mallory’s intention was to established high standards for Christian behavior and education. Through the decades, she led the students by integrating public schools and the broadening role for blacks after the passage of civil rights legislation. Mallory helped developed many African-American leaders through her mission.
The institution was once notable for its inclusion in a landmark federal case, Coffey v. State Educational Finance Commission (1969) that challenged the state of Mississippi’s tuition grant program for segregated schools. Saint was the only private school to receive state aid for black children. Grants covered 80% of Saint’s tuition cost in the 1967-1968 school year.
Mallory was a charter member of the NCNW, which national leader and school president Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune founded. Because of their relationship, Mallory had open access to the White House. She extended the opportunity to present her work with Saints Industrial School to President Eleanor Roosevelt and the first lady, singing for them. In 1963, she was appointed to serve in President John F. Kennedy’s administration.
Through her status with Saints Industrial and with her civic activities, Mallory promoted her advocacy for the Black and poor sharecroppers in Mississippi and for the Civil Rights Movement. In 1968, she was the first woman and person of color to be elected to the Holmes County Board of Education. In 1974, she was elected to a second term.
Mallory was an active member of the Church of God in Christ Women’s Department, where she was a church leader. She cemented her significance to the Women’s Department and made the outreaches that were crucial for the next generations. Mallory’s friendship with Mary Bethune brought in new ideas to the Women’s Department. She served from 1952-1955 on the board of directors of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, a pro-self help civil rights organization led by T. R. M. Howard from Mound Bayou, Mississippi.
Mallory’s leadership and work were featured in the May 1963 issue of The Crisis Magazine with the front page article written about her entitled “Mississippi Mud”. The Crisis article lauded her citing “Florida has its Mary McLeod Bethune, North Carolina has its Charlotte Hawkins Brown, and Mississippi has its Arenia Corenia Mallory, who, out of Mississippi mud has made it possible for children born, or yet unborn, to have a better heritage then chopping cotton.”
After Mallory’s retirement and death, followers tried to keep the school going, but the Delta’s population had declined as many families moved north or to larger cities. They were unable to succeed, and the school closed in 2006. In 2018, the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) invested in reopening the Saints campus. The campus was reopened, and its mission to train saints who will impact the world. Over $500,000 in renovations have been completed on the campus, and it is now a state-of-the-art facility where saints of all ages are welcome.
Saints’ history falls back as late as 1926 and typically qualifies for the designation of HBCU status. However, the institution’s accreditation is questionable as to why it may be jeopardized from receiving such status. HBCUs were established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary of Education to be reliable authority as to the quality of training offered or is, according to such an agency or association, making reasonable progress toward accreditation.