Paige returns to Utica, challenges audience

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 21, 2003

[03/20/03]UTICA n One hundred years after the school was founded and 40 years after he last taught there, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige returned to the community college in Utica Wednesday.

Paige, a teacher and coach from 1957 to 1963 at what was then Utica Junior College it’s now the Utica branch of Hinds Community College spoke to about 400 students, faculty, alumni and guests at the school’s 100th anniversary Founder’s Day celebration.

He focused on the words of William Henry Holtzclaw, the man who founded the Utica school in 1903.

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“When you look at the hurdles and barriers he overcame, it gives us inspiration to keep on moving,” said Paige, who was superintendent of the Houston (Texas) Independent School District before being tapped by President Bush two years ago to lead the U.S. Department of Education.

Paige said Holtzclaw’s stated goal was to “lift the black man’s burden.” Later, Holtzclaw told admirers he succeeded only in lightening that load and committed his life to trying.

“We must continue the trek towards lifting that burden, for all of us, not just African-Americans,” said Paige, who was born in Monticello.

James Hill, a 1959 graduate of the college, who knew Paige during his time there, said “We’re always glad when a home boy comes back.”

Another graduate, Houston Perry, returned to the campus to perform with the Jubilee Singers and the Utica campus choir.

“I appreciated the things he said, and I especially appreciated his coming back to campus to show his support,” Perry said.

Hilton Dyar, dean of the Vicksburg Branch of Hinds Community College, said he believes Paige’s remarks came from the heart, and they were “very appreciative and complimentary to this particular Hinds location.”

C.R. Porter, director of the media center at the Utica campus, said he agreed with Paige’s remarks.

“That’s always been our cornerstone, to provide a facility to all who wanted a quality education,” Porter said. “I think (Paige) expressed our views extremely well.”

In his six-year tenure at the school, Paige was a basketball and football coach. He was inducted Monday into the campus’ first Sports Hall of Fame.