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Established in 1909, Piney Woods is one of four remaining historically Black boarding schools in the United States. The school began by educating the children and grandchildren of former slaves and continues to instruct students in a variety of liberal arts and vocational subjects on its 500-acre instructional farm. The school was established by African American educator Laurence Jones, a graduate of the University of Iowa. Jones decided to move to Rankin County when he learned of the conditions faced by African Americans and established the school with his own funds. In 1909, the school began with a student body of only three students. Jones escaped a near-lynching in 1918. Rather than flee the area, Jones was actually able to convince the men who nearly murdered him to contribute to his school.

Photo of Laurence Jones, founder of Piney Woods

Photo of Laurence Jones, founder of Piney Woods

Laurence Jones is the founder and former president of Piney Woods Country Life School in Rankin County Mississippi. Jones was an avid advocate for the educational advancement of Black youth. In 1917, he became the target of a mob of young white men who claimed that they overheard Jones plotting an attack against whites.  

Infuriated by what they assumed he said, two young white men rallied up the crowd to plan their attack against Jones. However, their allegations about what Jones said was incorrect. Jones actually told the group of religious evangelist that life was a “battleground” and that they must stay “on the firing line.” Their false assumptions led them to proceed with the lynching until Jones gave a speech that saved his life. 

With a noose around his neck, he expressed his passion for the education of Black youth and mentioned the support he received from notable white men in the community. His also expressed his desire to raise money for school supplies for the school he was planning to start for young Black youth. After they realized that they misunderstood his remarks, they released him. The lynch mob even went so as to donate fifty dollars to the establishment of the school. Years following the lynching scare, Jones was able to successfully establish this school.

DeRamus, Betty. Forbidden Fruit: Love Stories from the Underground Railroad. New York: Atria, 2005. Print.