"This is where I come sometimes. It gives me inspiration," says Crossley. It also reminds him why he left a prominent position in Washington for a second round at Piney Woods.
Jones defied the odds when he opened a school for poor blacks in the segregated South. The governor of Mississippi at the time, James Vardaman, was a known white-supremacist who opposed education for African-Americans. But Jones managed to protect his school from people with similar ideas by befriending white business owners in Rankin County, where he started the school with $2 in his pocket. A respected, white sawmill owner donated lumber so Jones could fix up the sheep shed on land donated by a former slave.
On the first day of school in 1910, Jones told 100 students: "You have come here to seek freedom, not from the kind of slavery your parents endured, but from a slavery of ignorance of mind and awkwardness of body. You have come to educate your head, your hands, and your heart," according to a biography of Jones entitled The Little Professor of Piney Woods.
The school continued to grow over the decades as Jones raised money from people in the North. Successful alumni include Nobel Peace Prize nominee Randy Sandifer and James Alfred, an actor and playwright who plays a small role in the hit Fox show Empire.
Maya Riddles, a current junior at Piney Woods, says the school's history means a lot to her as an African-American student.
"I see this history like gold," says Riddles, sitting in her dorm room after class. "Stereotypically, people don't see African-Americans as being successful. Whereas, you come here, and there are a lot of successful African-American people here."
Riddles was hesitant to come to Piney Woods, she says, thinking her classmates would all be "cowboys" and "country people." She was surprised to meet fellow students from all over the U.S. and countries like Ethiopia.
The 17-year-old honors student was raised by a working single mother in Atlanta who sent her to private schools through eighth grade, but couldn't afford a private high school. Riddles worried she would end up as another "statistic" in the public school system.
Her freshman year at Piney Woods was overwhelming, she says, and she struggled to balance her demanding coursework with extracurricular activities and part-time work.
"It was a culture shock, coming here, waking up at 5:30, showing my uniform ironed every night," she says.
Now, Riddles is president of her class, a member of the school's Cotton Blossom Singers, and works part time in the radio studio, where she reads the morning announcements. She also plays volleyball and basketball, and runs track.
She's only halfway through her junior year, but has already applied to two colleges. Her dream is to attend Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She loves Texas and wants to go to a small Christian university. Maybe she'll study broadcast journalism or music. She loves singing and learning to play different instruments.
In her dorm room, she has a guitar, a cajon drum, and a ukulele.
Riddles picks up her ukulele—nicknamed Samantha—and begins strumming.
There is power in the name of Jesus, she sings. There is power in the name of Jesus, to break every chain, break every chain, break every chain. To break every chain, break every chain, break every chain.