Mississippi Industrial College

The Mississippi Industrial College was founded in 1905 by Bishop Elias Cottrell, of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. In the early 1890s, Cottrell began working to start a school from first grade through college in northern Mississippi. In 1900, he set up a board of trustees and began raising money. Cottrell briefly named the future institution Mississippi Theological and Normal Seminary, but when it opened in 1906, it was named Mississippi Industrial College. There were 14 teachers and an enrollment of nearly 500 students in 1909. Twenty of the students were in the theological department.

In the early 20th century, opening a private school for African-Americans in the South was a challenge. One of the intriguing features of Mississippi Industrial College is that it did very little industrial training. In the atmosphere of opposition to African-American education, Cottrell along with school leaders made the decision to promote the respectability and uncontroversial nature of industrial education even though the school emphasized teacher training and liberal arts education. Students who aspired to the BA degree took multiple years of Latin and Greek, and literary study emphasized the classics of England and New England. The “industrial” feature of the school lay primarily in requiring students to sew, cook, and tend to the 110-acre farm as part of their contribution to campus life. Funding the school was not easy since public money was unavailable, the CME church did not have a wealthy group of supporters throughout the country, and very few African-Americans in Mississippi were affluent. Cottrell relied on a combination of requests to the CME boards in Mississippi, occasional requests to a philanthropist like Andrew Carnegie, and financial contributions of struggling Black farmers who wanted better for their children.

The former buildings of Mississippi Industrial College sit across the street from Rust College, founded in 1866. The proximity of the two Methodist-affiliated institutions encouraged students and faculty to make comparisons in the size of the two schools and in the nature of their leadership. It was important to the identity of Mississippi Industrial College that Black educators and trustees were in charge, while they noted that Rust College had some White supporters and trustees. In the 1910s, almost all MIC faculty members, led by President D. C. Potts, educated at Howard University, came from historically Black institutions – Fisk, Walden, Philander Smith, Lane, Mary Holmes, Payne, and Tuskegee, along with one faculty member from Berea College in Kentucky.

The nature of MIC as a church-related school dedicated to moral propriety and uplift was clear. All students wore uniforms, went to daily devotionals and a Wednesday prayer service, and many campus organizations, like the YWCA, YMCA, and the Epworth League had religious elements. Later in the history of the institution, CME Bishop Oree Broomfield, a graduate of MIC, supported the efforts of young people to enroll in the college by allowing some of them to live free in his home and by offering scholarships to some students studying to become ministers.

In 1923, Mississippi Industrial College opened Carnegie Auditorium, a large and impressive auditorium whose size – seating 2,000 people – reflected the ambitious goals of the college. For much of its history, MIC emphasized the training of teachers and candidates for the ministry. In the 1960s, MIC was relatively uninvolved in the civil rights movement compared to many African-American college campuses. College president Edgar Everett Rankin discouraged student activism, but a number of students joined students at Rust College to protest segregation in Holly Springs businesses and attend protest meetings.

The campus was listed as a historic site on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. After years of financial difficulties, Mississippi Industrial College closed in 1982. In November 1999, the Mississippi Industrial College Alumni Association, Inc. (MICAAI) was organized in order to preserve the campus and buildings. Some of its buildings briefly housed social service and educational organizations after the college closed. Rust College acquired the property in 2008 in an attempt to save the buildings from further deterioration. Today, the buildings sit gutted and in severe disrepair. Efforts to secure funding and stabilize the structures have failed.

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Pictured above is the first campus building known as Cathrine Hall. Named after the wife of Elias Cottrell, it was completed in 1906 and originally served as both a classroom building and a women’s dormitory. The building contained part of the Mills House, an antebellum mansion on the 110-acre college site. Cathrine Hall was demolished in 2012 after partially collapsing during a severe storm a few years earlier.
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Washington Hall, named after Booker T. Washington, was built in 1910 and used as the primary administration and classroom building.  The facade is accentuated by two projecting gable-roof pavilions.  Originally a portico was situated between the pavilions with Doric columns and an entablature with balustrade, but this has long since collapsed and disappeared.
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Mississippi Industrial College
Four of the buildings – including Washington Hall and Carnegie Auditorium – are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Mississippi Industrial College

Mississippi Industrial College

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Books remain on a shelf inside the former Mississippi Industrial College.
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Carnegie Auditorium was designed by one of the first Black architectural firms, McKissack & McKissack of Nashville. The 2,000-seat auditorium was completed in 1923.
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Carnegie Auditorium was constructed using funds from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation and was the largest auditorium built for African-Americans in Mississippi.  It is a two-and-a-half-story brick structure on a raised basement plan.  The central section has a two-story portico with Doric columns and a raised pedimented roof with a centered fanlight.

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Hammond Hall was built in 1907 in the Jacobean Revival style. Jacobean details include a curvilinear parapet and single-story portico.  It was used as a dormitory. It is the best-preserved of the historic properties on the campus.

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Next door to Hammond Hall is Davis Hall, a gymnasium built in 1950. MIC planned to redevelop Davis Hall into a multi-learning center but construction was abandoned in 1981.
Mississippi Industrial College
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Gravestone of William M. Frazier, longtime president of the now-defunct Mississippi Industrial College.

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5 comments

  1. I continue to enjoy learning about these historic sites & viewing your photos. Thank you for what you do.

    Like

  2. Very impressive and ambitious endeavor, considering the non-existent funding—I have great admiration for individuals like these who can bring a vision to life. The design of those facilities is impressive today, and it must have been a VERY impressive campus in its heyday.

    Like

  3. My husband has clients in Holly Springs, MS and we have seen some of the restoration on one of the buildings. Until they’re all done the turkey vultures will continue to inhabit the structures. Great project!

    Liked by 1 person

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