Senator Betty Holzendorf Leaves Behind a Legacy of a Forgotten United Jacksonville

Mrs. Betty Holzendorf

By Sylvia Perry
Lifetime Generation Xers in Jacksonville are probably the youngest generation in the city to remember Black Jacksonville at its political best. The time when there was political unity and solidarity across the city despite whatever neighborhood you came from. Everyone was connected to someone and if a favor needed to be had or provided – the connected could make it happen. That interconnected tribe included a myriad of business owners, politicians, classmates, organizational ties and even family to make things happen. Our Black elected officials, often known as the “mafia” could be found at the core of this intersection. Not because of the ruthless tactics used by the moniker, but by the ties that bind that were used to make things happen – or not, for the world around us.

One of those intricate members was no doubt the late Senator Betty Holzendorf. Home grown and self-made, she was a notable shot caller in the northeast Florida community. I remember watching as a youth how this tight knit circle and its expanded network called rallies, passed legislation, supported candidates, raised money, and spread the word that needed to be spread. From the pulpit to the polls, they made sure Jacksonville’s community color was represented.

Betty and King Holzendorf, Denise Lee and bank executive Doug Williams

A lifelong resident of Jacksonville, Holzendorf was born in the city on April 5, 1939. Smart and bright at an early age, she graduated from Mathew W. Gilbert High School at the age of sixteen. She graduated from Edward Waters College, Atlanta University and the University of North Florida earning several degrees ranging from a bachelor’s and two Masters to an honorary doctorate. The life of service included molding young minds as an elementary teacher before she began her government and political career as the city of Jacksonville’s Affirmative Action Officer and an assistant in the Office of Mayor Jake Godbold in the 1970s. She wrote her name in history when she became the first African American woman from Jacksonville to be elected to the Florida House of Representatives. She served four years in the Florida House and 10 years in the Florida Senate.

Holzendorf was defeated in 2003 in a race for the Mayor of Jacksonville but has always remained a respected voice to be reckoned with.


Shown at the road marker dedication of another community stalwart, Arnolta “Mama” Williams is King Holzendorf, Sen. Holzendorf, Rep. Tony Hill, Dr. Hortense Gray and Rep. Willye Dennis.

A look back at a 1981 Ebony Magazine shows her among other leaders such as Earl Johnson, Jr., Sallye Mathis, Harold Gibson, Warren Jones and Rodney Hurst. Other politicos are still among us including Tony Hill, Corrine Brown, Terry Fields, etc.. the list goes on of those who helped shape our city when unity meant something else. Some of those trailblazing names are still with us. Most of them are not.

I first got to know her as she and my mother were both members of the local chartering chapter of the National Council of Negro Women. In high school, I was close friends with one of her sons and she would affectionately call me “daughter-in-law.” Unfortunately, as a teen and tween we have little value for the network. You see them in action and you take them for granted. It’s not until we are in a climate for a time such as this that we realize how impactful those times were – and how much they are dearly missed. The warriors that unapologetically fought the good fight and said what needed to be said are becoming far to between. Always candid, never a loss for words, and one who could cut you with a smile, “Mrs. Betty” was a great friend to have.

She was married to King Holzendorf who also served as a city councilman in Jacksonville. Her most beloved role was as mother to her children Kevin, Kim and Kessler.

Betty Holzendorf’s community involvement extended far beyond the political arena. Her service continued through the founding of the Northside Civic Association, a life member of the National Council of Negro Women, National Conference of Black State Legislators, Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, NAACP, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and the Board of Directors of the FAMU Foundation.

In her leisure time, she enjoyed watching Westerns, historical epics, and biopics. Her favorite activity was cooking any and everything. Most of all, she enjoyed spending time with her family, especially her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She leaves her beloved kindred including her husband of 65 years King, daughter, Kim Lockley; sons, King III, Kevin J. and (Tracee) and Kessler; a host of grand-children, nieces, nephews, friends and loved ones.

She peacefully passed away on February 29, 2024, surrounded by her family, whom she loved and cherished. She was preceded in death by her parents and sisters, Helen Smith, Rebecca Smith, Doris Wise, Blondell Muldrow, and Rose Marie Smith.

A viewing will be held Sunday March 10, 2024 from 2 – 4 p.m. at the Northside Chapel of Sarah L. Carter’s, 6665 New Kings Road, Jacksonville, FL 32219 with the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Ivy Behind the Wall Ceremony at 4:30 p.m . The Celebration of Life will be held on Monday, March 11th at 11 a.m. at St. Pul AME Church, 6910 New Kings Road, Jacksonville, Florida 32219.  Interment will be at the Jacksonville National Cemetery.

Madam, you will be missed.


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