Dr. Arenia Conelia Mallory was a leader in education, religion, social welfare, and civil rights. Born in Jacksonville, Illinois, on 28 December 1904, Mallory moved to Mississippi in 1926. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Simmons College in Louisville, Kentucky, master’s degrees from Jackson State University and the University of Illinois, and a law degree from Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida, in 1951.
Mallory’s most important achievement was as founder and long-standing head of the Saints Industrial and Literary School in Lexington, Mississippi. She served as president of the school from 1926 to 1976. In 1954 the school was renamed Saints Junior College, and in the 1970s it became Saints Academy, a private religious secondary school for students in grades one through twelve operated by the Church of God in Christ, the largest African American Pentecostal denomination. Mallory was a leader in the national church, particularly its Women’s Department.
Mallory encouraged not only education but also the provision of health and welfare services for sharecroppers in Holmes County, where African Americans predominated. She frequently traveled across the country with a girls’ choir, the Jubilee Harmonizers, raising money and gathering books and clothing for her students and county residents. On a stop in Oakland, California, she convinced former Mississippi resident Ida Louise Jackson, president of Alpha Kappa Alpha, a black sorority, to work in the Mississippi Delta, and Mallory’s school served as headquarters for the organization’s Summer School for Rural Teachers in 1934 and for its Mississippi Health Project the following year.
Mallory advocated on behalf of black rights and women’s rights at the national as well as local levels. As a member of the National Council of Negro Women, an umbrella organization of black women’s groups, Mallory was one of sixty-five attendees at a 1938 conference in Washington, D.C., on “The Participation of Negro Women and Children in Federal Programs.” She subsequently served as the council’s vice president from 1953 to 1957 and as a consultant for the US Department of Labor in 1963. In 1968 Mallory became the first woman and the first African American elected to the Holmes County Board of Education.
She left Saints Junior College in 1976 and died on 8 May 1977. Today, the Arenia C. Mallory Community Health Center in Lexington and the Arenia Mallory School of Religion in Miami, Florida, honor her legacy.
- Anthea D. Butler, Women in the Church of Christ: Making a Sanctified World (2007)
- Linda Gordon, Pitied but Not Entitled: Single Mothers and the History of Welfare (1994)
- Arenia C. Mallory Subject File, Mississippi Department of Archives and History
- George Alexander Sewell and Margaret L. Dwight, Mississippi Black History Makers (1984)
- Susan L. Smith, Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired: Black Women’s Health Activism in America, 1890–1950 (1995)