Mary Charlton Holliday (1895-1968)
Mary Holliday battled the same gender prejudices as Celeste Henkel and the two women were building their legacy in the Iredell County school system around the same time, but Mary also had to overcome racial prejudices because she was African American. Originally born in Virginia, she came to Iredell County as the first supervisor for Black schools and it was because of her contributions that the school system for African Americans began to thrive. Mary served as supervisor over Black schools for forty-one years. When she first arrived in Iredell, she was appalled to see the conditions of the schools and the minimal extent of their learning materials. She sought to consolidate schools, increase reading materials, and maximize the county’s opportunities through grant funding.
In 1918, she married Dr. Robert Holliday who was a respected African American physician in Statesville. They made their home on Garfield Street where their home still stands today. Mary was an advocate not only for education but for improving family and home life as well. She formed the first Better Homes Club in 1919, the James Hardy Dillard Book Club, several study and home economics groups for adults, and PTA organizations. She sat on several boards including the North Carolina Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers (of which she was president and co-founder) and the North Carolina Teachers Association.
Perhaps her most remarkable accomplishment was her building of brand new Rosenwald schools in the county. A partnership took place between Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute, and Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears and Roebuck, and sparked an initiative to build state-of-the-art facilities in the South for African American students. This was a momentous occasion for educational reform among Blacks in the rural South. Mary Holliday saw the brilliance in this project and brought the Rosenwald schools to Iredell County. In her years of service, she consolidated 39 schools into eleven new Rosenwald schools.
In 1945, she was honored by an Iredell native, Selma Burke, who is known for her sculpting work. Burke designed the image of Roosevelt that we now see on our modern dimes. She created a bronze profile image of Mary Holliday in recognition of her hard work and dedication to the advancement of education in the African American community. It was presented to her and displayed at Unity High School, the largest high school and only high school for Blacks in the county. She retired in 1956 and relocated with her husband to Fayetteville. She died on April 8, 1968 at the age of 73. She is buried with her husband in Fayetteville, but her Iredell legacy will live on. There are many families in Iredell County who have grandparents and great-grandparents who benefited from her wisdom and contributions. The county is forever indebted to Mary Holliday’s passion for learning and equity for all students.