Nearly two hundred years after the first Holtzclaws arrived in Virginia, William, son of a slave, founded the Utica Institute in northern Mississippi, the first school of higher education for blacks in Mississippi.
On Sept. 12, President Obama declared the week of Sept. 12-18 as National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week. White House-sponsored events were scheduled to raise awareness of and support the efforts of the nation’s 105 historically black colleges. The week’s events are part of a conference organized by the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
African-American Holtzclaws do not appear in the scholarly geneology of the Holtzclaws in America, published at the University of Richmond in the 1930s. But among the hundreds of Holtzclaw families that scattered throughout the Piedmont and the Deep South in the years following the arrival of Jacob Holtzclaw and his two sons in the Germanna settlement in northern Virginia in 1714, census records, sadly, indicate that some had become wealthy enough to own slaves. So it’s not surprising that the line(s) of African-American Holtzclaws emerged during Reconstruction, especially in Alabama and Georgia.
I discovered William Henry Holtzclaw’s book, a special Bicentennial edition, at the library at North Carolina State University in 1978, about a year after my daughter was born.
The Black Man’s Burden
by William Henry Holtzclaw
Principal of the Utica Normal and Industrial Institute for the Training of Colored Young Men and Young Women, Utica Institute, Mississippi, 1915
from the introduction by
Booker T. Washington [author of White Man's Burden]
Principal of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama:
“Among the students who entered Tuskegee Institute in the fall of 1890 was a young man from Roanoke, Alabama. Like most of the students who came to use in those early days, he was very poor, and in order to make his way he found it necessary to enter the night school…He had not been in school very long, however, before he succeeded in attracting the attention of his teachers by the earnestness which he displayed, both in the work to which he was assigned during the day and in his studies in the class room at night….This book is the story of that young man’s life….[a] book of inspiration…[that] shows what pluck and patience and understanding can do, in the face of many difficulties and discouragements, to establish schools that will not only instruct, but will direct and inspire the masses of our people in their efforts for better things….The book that Mr. Holtzclaw has written…is the story not merely of an individual, or of a school, but it is at the same time a very important chapter in the history of Negro education.” – Booker T. Washington
From the Booker T. Washington papers, 1906 (University of Illinois):
“William Henry Holtzclaw, born in the log cabin of a sharecropping family near Roanoke, Ala., in 1874 or 1876, was the perfect disciple of the founder of Tuskegee. A regular field hand at the age of nine, he was determined to improve his education and his lot. Beginning in 1890 in the A preparatory class of the Tuskegee night school, he worked his way through to graduation in 1898, working as a printer as soon as he had learned the trade in the Tuskegee shop. A brother and sister followed him to the Institute. After his father’s death midway through his course, Holtzclaw taught school for a time to support his family, but returned to complete his education. Turning down an offer to teach at Tuskegee, he taught for four years at Snow Hill Industrial Institute in Alabama, and then founded his own school in Mississippi, Utica Normal and Industrial Institute, on the Tuskegee model. Beginning in a brush arbor in 1902, he gradually built a school with aid from the Slater Fund and northern donors. Most of his teachers were Tuskegee graduates, as was his wife, who had charge of the girls’ industries. Utica was a mirror of Tuskegee, both on campus and in its extension services to the surrounding black rural people. Continuing his self-improvement, Holtzclaw earned a master’s degree at the Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College in 1908, and attended Harvard summer sessions for a decade. In 1915 he wrote The Black Man’s Burden, which emphasized his civilizing mission in “darkest Mississippi.”
Holtzclaw served as president of the Utica Institute until his death in 1943.
In 2003, Utica Junior College (the Utica campus of what had evolved into Hinds Community College, serving five counties) celebrated its centennial, including the dedication of the William Henry Holtzclaw library.
The theme for the celebration was, “Embracing the Legacy, Upholding the Promise.” The school logo reflects this theme and founding date in the outlying border of the circle. Displayed in the circle’s center is the bell tower, one of the Utica Campus’s oldest remaining structures, “which symbolizes the start of the school and the freedom to educate African Americans and eventually, a diverse student body.”