Location: Pearl River Community College
The official newsletter of the Pearl River Community College Museum Patrons, Organization Volume II June 2006 Number IV In this issue:
PRC - Little Known Facts
Pearl River College: Little Known Facts and Information (This article is a result of research and interviews done for 100 Years of Educational Excellence: The Pearl River College Story)
John Hawkins Napier, Jr., early educator (1897-1949) Pearl River County Agricultural High School (PRCAHS) produced an extraordinarily large number of teachers in its early years. Some of these teachers came back to share their knowledge with PRCAHS students. For example, 1920 graduate Joseph Forrest Stuart, fondly known as "Rat" Stuart, returned to coach the first Mississippi Junior College football championship team in 1925, and he returned again in 1932 to take the helm as President. Frankie Durham, who won accolades at the AHS for her speeches and acting in the early twenties, returned to PRCAHS to teach Elocution. Some PRCAHS graduates shared their education in many of Pearl River County consolidated schools. Some went on to other educational posts in other places.
One PRCAHS student made a name for himself across three states in an educational career that began in Mississippi and went as far west as California. His name was John Hawkins Napier, Jr. Napier's great-grandfather, John Staples Napier, was a War of 1812 veteran who was born in Virginia in 1778 and came to Mississippi in 1831. He settled in Covington County where he farmed and taught school. His son, Benjamin Brewton Napier resided in Seminary. Benjamin's son and Napier's father, John Sr., was educated at Southern Normal College in Huntington, Tennessee where he received a degree in law. He met Napier's mother, Laura Shanks Napier, who was also college educated and held a Bachelor of Science degree from Houston College. She later attended Meridian Medical College. John Hawkins Napier, Jr. was born in Rawls Springs. He moved with his family to Poplarville, and his father set up a law office with a young Pearl River County lawyer, Theodore Gilmore Bilbo. Soon after, Napier's father abandoned his family, and his brave wife was left to provide for her young children, so she taught school.
Young John Napier attended high school at the newly organized Pearl River County Agricultural High School, where he ex-celled in all subjects. When he graduated in 1913 with the second graduating class, he did so as its valedictorian. At graduation,young Napier showed his mettle when, because of a family feud between his family and Theo Bilbo, he refused to take his diploma from Bilbo or shake his hand. Instead, he told Bilbo, who was handing out the diplomas that evening, "Just put my diploma on the table. I'll pick it up." Immediately after graduation, he went to work teaching school. (In the early 1900s, a high school diploma was all that was necessary to teach grade school.) His first job, at age 16, was at the Industrial School at Henleyfield. In 1914, he was the first principal of Steep Hollow School, and later he served in the same capacity at White Sand School (1916-1917).In 1917, Napier decided to extend his education and enrolled at the Mississippi Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Mississippi State University). That November, Napier enlisted in the Army. After serving his country during World War II in both the Air Service and the Artillery, he was discharged with the rank of Ser-geant. He returned to his educational pursuits at Mississippi A.&M., where he earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in 1920.Before moving west, he did some graduate work at the University of Chicago. Napier arrived in Prescott, Arizona in the fall of 1920, where he taught science and coached basketball. He then took part in the organization of the first public school in St. John's, Arizona. His school board president was Levi Udall, father of future democratic leaders Morris and Stewart Udall.
In 1922, Napier married Lena Mae Tate of Picayune. Her father, Eastman Francis Tate, was a businessman and is known as the "Father of Picayune." The ceremony took place in Washing-ton, D. C., where Miss Tate worked in the Treasury Department since the end of World War I. After they married, Napier took his new wife to St. John's, Arizona and continued his job as the town's school principal. The following year, they moved to California, first to San Francisco, then across the bay to Piedmont, where he taught science and coached basketball. In 1925, Napier received his Master of Arts from the University of California at Berkeley. That same year, he was named the Superintendent of Schools at Emeryville, a suburb of Oakland, California. In 1927, he organized and built a junior-senior high school for the district. In 1932 Napier received his Ph. D. from Stanford University. In 1936, Napier became Superintendent of Schools of the Placer Union High School District in Auburn, California. He immediately resurrected Placer Junior College (now Sierra College).The newly reopened college began with 87 students and immediately carried out a $400,000 building program for the campus. The original college, founded in 1914, had been closed in 1920 due to enrollment losses during World War I. (Sierra College now has an enrollment of 30,000 students.)
In 1941, Napier became superintendent of schools at Tulare, California. Then, in 1943, Napier was persuaded to come back to Mississippi and take over the Picayune City Schools. The school board was led by businessman-philanthropist Lucien Owen Crosby, Jr. After wartime restrictions ended, Napier led the city in a half-million dollar building project to construct the new Picayune Memorial High School (dedicated to the soldiers who had given their lives in World War II) and the new George Washington Carver School (for African-American children).
While at Picayune schools, Napier became visiting professor of education at Mississippi Southern College (now USM) in 1946, a position he held until his death. While in Picayune, Napier was also president of his wife's family-owned insurance agency, director of the Bank of Picayune, owned a tung farm with his son, John H. Napier, III, and was secretary-treasurer of the Poplarville based American Tung Oil Association. He was also active in professional education associations in California and Mississippi during his career.
On September 23, 1949, Napier suffered a heart attack while watching Picayune High School's football team in contest with Gulfport High School. He died at a New Orleans hospital the following morning at age 52. A bronze plaque hangs in his honor in the Picayune Junior High School building.
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