April 1, 2022

Utica Institute Museum celebrates opening

"The museum tells the history of the Utica Normal and Industrial Institute, a “little Tuskegee” founded in 1903 by William Holtzclaw as a place to educate Black citizens."
BY: Vergie Morgan
Photography by Brad Smith

The Utica Institute Museum on the Utica Campus of Hinds Community College officially opened in February with Hinds AHS alumnus Congressman Bennie Thompson and Mississippi Humanities Council Executive Director Dr. Stuart Rockoff as featured speakers.

The museum tells the history of the Utica Normal and Industrial Institute, a “little Tuskegee” founded in 1903 by William Holtzclaw as a place to educate Black citizens. The Utica Institute later became Utica Junior College, and merged with then-Hinds Junior College in the early 1980s. The Utica Campus is designated as an HBCU, or Historically Black College and University, along with Coahoma Community College in Clarksdale. The museum is located in the former Vice President’s Home located on the campus.

“As the president of Hinds Community college, I am inspired by Dr. Holtzclaw’s vision on education and dedication to ensuring better lives for many who would have otherwise been denied opportunities – opportunities that we may take for granted today,” said Dr. Stephen Vacik.

Congressman Benny Thompson

Thompson, a 1965 graduate of Hinds Agricultural High School, reflected on his time at the school and the fond memories he has.

“Someone once said that we are a sum total of our experiences. My experience on this campus absolutely opened doors for me,” he said. “It was those experiences that taught me, and the people I met here. All of that is the history of this campus. We need to make sure we retain that history. This museum is long overdue.”

Rockoff noted that the project has gotten two grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“These grants are not easy to get. They are extremely competitive, and so the fact that they were awarded this grant, and a second grant, is a testament to the quality of the team at Hinds Utica Campus. And also a testament to the national significance of this story,” he said.

The Mississippi Humanities Council has also helped support the Jubilee Singers exhibit and creation of outdoor program space and an interpretive trail, “all focusing on sharing the extraordinary story of William Holtzclaw and the institution he created,” Rockoff said.

Museum Co-director and retired Utica Campus Library Director Jean Greene, one of the founding members of the Institute, told her story of how she came to work and eventually fell in love with the Utica Campus.

“I developed a love for the campus and its history. I enjoyed the traditions that tie it to other HBCUs,” she said.

“The Utica Institute Museum was created to preserve the history of the Utica institute, Hinds Agricultural High School, Utica Junior College and the Utica Campus of Hinds Community College. One of its functions is to share the story of the history of the campus and the legacy with the world,” Greene said.

Dan Fuller, Humanities chairman and museum co-director, said students have helped with several projects that further the museum’s success.

“When we bring students into the museum for class tours we share with them the story of this special place. Students, we dedicate this museum to you,” he said.

The museum has several programs and projects coming up in the future including a bike trail and a new series called “Back Porch Thursdays,” an event that allows attendees to learn about southern Black education.

Visit uticainstitute.org to learn more or schedule a tour.