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Leola Dennis Photo Album of Utica (Mississippi) Normal and Industrial Institute

Identifier: 2020-007

Scope and Contents

One photographic album compiled by Leola Dennis containing seventy-one black-and-white photographs depicting life at the Utica Normal and Industrial Institute during the early 1920s. Of particular interest are the images of William Henry Holtzclaw, founder of the Utica Normal and Industrial Institute.


  • 1921 - 1924

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Biographical / Historical

Leola Dennis was born about 1903 in Mississippi. She was the daughter of cotton sharecropper Frank Dennis, (1877-1954), and his wife, Minnie Lee Smith (1879-1960). Leola's parents were both natives of Madison County, Mississippi. The couple had ten children by 1920; Leola was the oldest at seventeen. The family kept a small farm in Livingston, Mississippi, and the older children, including Leola, helped out on the farm. Earlier, in 1910, the family was shown renting the farm in Livingston; however, by 1920, the census stated that Frank Dennis as working on his "own account." In 1930, the Dennis family was still living in Livingston, working a farm, but they were listed as "renting." Leola was not living at home then.

Some of the Dennis children fled the South as part of the "Great Migration" and relocated to the northern states for better education, economic opportunities, and improved personal safety. Leola, her sister Mary, and brother Roger moved north to Indianapolis, Indiana.

Leola is found living in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1940, along with her sister Mary. The 1940 Census shows that Leola was working as a day servant in a private home. The census also shows she had four years of high school education and that her sister Mary had relocated to Indianapolis from Canton, Mississippi. Leola was listed as a widow and her sister Mary was only fourteen years of age. Leola was living in Indianapolis as early as 1935.

Biographical / Historical

William Henry Holtzclaw was born about 1874 in Randolph County, Alabama, near Roanoke. His parents, Jerry and Addie Greer Holtzclaw were formerly enslaved people, and the family lived in extreme poverty.

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 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.'"

Utica Institute instructed its students not only in academic subjects, but also in vocational work, just as Tuskegee Institute did in Alabama. After only five years of operation, Utica Institute had thirty-three teachers, 1500 acres of land, fourteen buildings and more than 400 students, many of whom boarded at the school. It operated on a budget of approximately $30,000 annually, all of which was donated. Holtzclaw served as president of the Utica Institute until his death in 1943. Utica Institute was eventually turned over to the county and operated as Utica Junior College. Today it is the Utica Campus of Hinds Community College. The Library at the school was named in honor of Holtzclaw when it was dedicated in 2003.

William H. Holtzclaw authored two books: Black Man's Burden, New York: Neale Pub. Co., 1915 A Negro's Life Story , Utica, Miss.: Utica Institute Electric Printing, 1908.

Source: Growing up Black, edited by David Jay; Lives of Mississippi Authors, 1817-1967; article in Roanoke Leader, March 7, 1973.


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Language of Materials



One photographic album compiled by Leola Dennis containing seventy-one black-and-white photographs depicting life at the Utica Normal and Industrial Institute during the early 1920s.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The University of Alabama Libraries acquired the Leola Dennis Photo Album of Utica (Mississippi) Normal and Industrial Institute in 2019.

Processing Information

Processed by Jessica Rayman, November 2020
Guide to Leola Dennis Photo Album of Utica (Mississippi) Normal and Industrial Institute
Jessica Rayman
June 2021
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The University of Alabama Libraries Special Collections Repository

Box 870266
Tuscaloosa AL 35487-0266