Velma Lois Jones Story by Dr. Yvonne D. Nelson Velma Lois Jones, MBA grew up in north Memphis. “I was born at 1339 Austin,” said Jones who began school at the age of 5-years old. “You were supposed to start school when you were six, but I had a cousin who was married to the first grade teacher at Hyde Park Elementary School.” Jones transferred to Manassas, a 1st – 12th grade and the only school on the north side of Memphis for blacks. After graduating from Manassas, she attended LeMoyne College. When Jones began looking for a job after graduating from LeMoyne, she noticed that almost all of her classmates were already working. “When I left LeMoyne and got my Masters’ degree, I really wanted it in English and Math, but Tennessee State did not offer the degree that I wanted. At that time the state paid for you to pay for you to go outside of the state. That’s how I got to Columbia, the state paid for me to go. I had never been to New York so I said this is my chance!” Jones spent three summer intersessions at Columbia and graduated with a Masters’ degree in Education a year early and then return to Memphis. While attending Columbia University, she lived with a former classmate’s sister rather than on campus which she said was quite an advantage. “My momma told me when I got out of college she was through and that I was going to have to take care of myself,” said Jones whose mother told her she was going to have to get a job. “I was told that I better major in Elementary Education because they weren’t hiring many blacks in the upper grades and certainly not as administrators. At that time, it is sad to say, but in order to get a job in the Shelby County Schools system, you had to know somebody or know a prominent white person which is how I got my job.” Jones was told that she could probably go to Mississippi to get a job or work as a substitute teacher in Memphis. “I went home crying and told my mother what I had been told,” said Jones. “My mother called Mr. Herbert Humphrey and told him what the lady had said to me. The rest is history.” Jones’ mother worked for the Humphrey’s family who owned Humko, a local oil company. Working for Humko allowed her mother to be considered as knowing a prominent white person. Her mother called Humphrey on that Friday evening and on Sunday morning Mr. Ernest Ball, Superintendent of Memphis City Schools called me Sunday morning. “Mr. Ball told me that I was to report to Mr. Bland at Hyde Park School on Monday morning and that he would assign me to my job,” said Jones. “That system still works that way, but it may not be as bad today. It ain’t what you know, it’s who you know.” Jones began to describe the challenges for ambitious blacks majoring in education during those days. “You had black men principals in predominantly black areas, but there were no women principals,” said Jones. “We always had a spokesperson for the blacks during segregation. Blair Hunt was the spokesman. Anything you wanted to get to the white folks, you would take to him. Hunt and Sigma Gamma Rho Harry Mae Simon of the Smokey City community were two people who had made it through some of the red tape. “All of the women principals during that time and there were only four or five couldn’t get to be junior high principals because they were women,” said Jones who indicated Elementary School Principal ship was the highest women could go in administration during that period. “I really only worked at one school but the school split and became two schools.” Jones is referring to the fact that Hyde Park Jr. High became Cypress Jr. High. “I started out in the second grade and stayed there for 10-12 years,” said Jones speaking of her work at Hyde Park Elementary School. “Then the school split and I became a teacher at Cypress Jr. High School. I was in the classroom for a total of 43 years, but I was out of the classroom for seven years.” Jones served one year as President of the Memphis Education Association (MEA) and six years as President of the Tennessee Education Association (TEA). As such, she was the longest severing of any TEA president and two years at the regional West TN EA. “I was the Vice President of the TEA,” said Jones. “The President, who had won her second term in office, died the day before she was supposed to begin her second term. So I served her term out and then served my first term and got reelected for my second term. That’s how I was the longest serving of any TEA president.” PHOTO By Yvonne D. Nelson 14

15 Publizr Home

You need flash player to view this online publication