William Henry Holtzclaw, a student and follower of Booker T. Washington, was the founder and leader of Utica Normal and Industrial School for the Training of Colored Young Men and Women. In 1915 Holtzclaw published his autobiography, The Black Man’s Burden.
Born into a poor family of former slaves in Alabama in 1870, Holtzclaw went to Tuskegee Institute in 1890. Impressed and influenced by Booker T. Washington’s doctrines of hard work, agricultural science, and high moral character, Holtzclaw left school ready to take the Tuskegee model to other parts of the South. After marrying fellow Tuskegee student Mary Ella Patterson and teaching briefly in Snow Hill, Alabama, he moved to Mississippi.
In 1902 he worked to organize a small public school, but he soon began raising money and organizing construction workers to build the private school that became Utica Normal and Industrial School. Following the Tuskegee model, Holtzclaw wanted students to work as part of their tuition, and he also relied on the Tuskegee model to attract fund-raisers, with support from both benefactors within Mississippi and distant philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie and publisher F. A. Ginn. The school’s offerings included teaching, agriculture, printing, carpentry, construction, steam and electrical engineering, and dressmaking. In debates about whether African American education should emphasize practical job training or more academic subjects, Holtzclaw emphasized the former.
As part of his work at Utica Normal and Industrial, Holtzclaw helped organize an annual Negro Farmers Conference in 1905 and the Black Belt Improvement Company, and he published two newspapers, the monthly Utica News and the school newspaper, Southern Notes. The school attracted some notoriety with the Utica Jubilee singers, a group of musicians modeled on singers from Fisk and Tuskegee.
Holtzclaw clearly modeled The Black Man’s Burden on Washington’s popular Up from Slavery (1901). Both autobiographies told stories of people overcoming impoverished upbringings through education, hard work, and example. Both stressed uplift and self-reliance. Holtzclaw wrote that one of his greatest goals was to teach African Americans, especially in rural areas, “to depend upon themselves, to find in their own communities and about their own doors a means of progress and betterment, and not to look to any outside source whatever.” Holtzclaw seemed a bit more willing than Washington directly to criticize white southern abuses. He spoke out against James Vardaman for cutting funds to African American schools, stood up to local opposition to his school, and condemned white violence against black men and women.
Eleven years after Holtzclaw’s death in 1943, Utica Normal and Industrial School became Utica Institute Junior College; it later became the Utica campus of Hinds Community College, and the school’s William H. Holtzclaw Library is named in his honor. In December 2015 the college announced that it had received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to highlight Holtzclaw’s work. In 1991 Holtzclaw’s home on the college campus, the Holtzclaw Mansion, which had been vacant since the mid-1960s, was designated a Mississippi Landmark. Efforts continue to restore the Holtzclaw Mansion, which in 2011 was named one of the 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in Mississippi.
- James D. Anderson, The Education of Blacks in the South (1988)
- Robert Fulton Holtzclaw, William Henry Holtzclaw, Scholar in Ebony, Founder of Utica Junior College (1977)
- Preservation in Mississippi website, misspreservation.com
- Southern Notes, Department of Archives and Special Collections, J. D. Williams Library, University of Mississippi