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Henry, Aaron(1922–1997) - Civil rights activist, state government official, Chronology, Representation and 1964 Democratic Convention

mississippi mfdp delegates clarksville

Aaron Edd Henry dedicated his life to the uplift of the people in the state of Mississippi and of the nation. Henry’s service extends to the NAACP, the Freedom Riders, and the Mississippi House of Representatives. Protest and personal involvement brought him shoulder to shoulder with the great leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and longtime friend Medgar Evers. Although Aaron Henry is not known widely outside Mississippi, his service to his community had a direct impact on all communities that struggled for equality.

Aaron Edd Henry was born on July 2, 1922, in Dublin, Mississippi, on the Flowers Plantation. Sharecropping was a well-established system in the South, and Henry’s father was a sharecropper with forty acres to farm. When he was three, Henry’s mother died and two years later his father also died. Henry was raised by his mother’s brother Ed Henry and his wife Mattie. In his younger years Henry worked on the Flowers plantation and later as a shoeshine boy and a porter. The elder Henry tried his hand at shoe cobbling and was quite successful. In 1927 the family moved to Webb, Mississippi, to set up a cobbler shop. Within a year the family moved again to Clarksville and bought a home. In Clarksville, Henry was not allowed to become a Boy Scout. Because the organizers of the Boy Scout troop taught the boys to march, which was viewed as a means toward protests, the troop was asked to leave. The white community was concerned that the troop might promote actions that they would not condone. Henry came to realize that whites were the authority and they would not risk anyone or any group undermining that authority.

In high school Henry was greatly influenced by his teacher, Thelma K. Shelby. She taught English and economics and was a member of the NAACP. She encouraged Henry and other students to realize their own self worth. Henry wrote in his autobiography that the lesson they learned from Shelby and other teachers was, “You are as good as anybody. You must believe in your personal worth and that you are equal to any other man. Racial superiority is a myth.”

Henry completed high school in 1941 and in 1943 was drafted into the army. He was discharged after three years of service, and attended Xavier University in New Orleans on the G. I. Bill. He served as student body president and president of his junior and senior classes. In 1950 with a pharmaceutical degree in hand, Henry returned to Clarksville. He opened up the only black pharmacy in the local community. Henry was successful in his business and became a leading voice in the community. He married Noelle Michael and they had daughter, Rebecca.

Chronology

1922

Born in Dublin, Mississippi on July 2

1941

Completes high school

1943

Drafted into the army

1950

Returns to Clarksville with a pharmaceutical degree from Xavier University; marries Nicolle Michael

1954

Joins the local NAACP

1960–94

Serves as president of state chapter of NAACP

1961

Arrested with Freedom Riders in Jackson, Mississippi; boycotts business in Clarksville

1963

Loses close friend and freedom fighter, Medgar Evers; orchestrates mock election for governor

1964

Attends the Democratic National Convention with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP)

1968

Organizes and chairs the Loyalist Democratic Party

1980

Files suit for redistricting of Mississippi

1982

Elected to Mississippi House of Representatives and holds position until 1996

1994

Death of wife Nicolle

1997

Dies of heart failure in Clarksville, Mississippi

Representation and 1964 Democratic Convention

The summer of 1964 was designated as Freedom Summer by COFO. The campaign to register black voters was accelerated with the aid of eight hundred volunteers, which included many white college students. To come one step closer to political access, Henry co-founded and served as chairperson of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). This coalition of blacks and whites sought to challenge the exclusion of black voters from the Democratic Party. The MFDP selected sixty-eight delegates to attend the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. President Lyndon Johnson said the MFDP delegates could not participate, and the attorney general of Mississippi issued an injunction threatening the delegates with jail if they tried to attend. The MFDP candidates, including Henry, attended the convention in spite of the injunction. They requested to be seated at the convention and received support for their request from other delegates. After three days of both sides standing their ground, a compromised was offered. The MFDP delegates were offered at-large status, which did not allow them to vote or represent any state. Henry and the delegation refused this offer. Another compromise was offered which would allow at-large seating only for Henry and King. Unknown to the MFDP delegation, James Farmer, Martin Luther King Jr., Roy Wilkins, and Bayard Rustin reluctantly agreed to the compromise and settled for political expediency. Still not informed of the acceptance, on the first day of the convention the delegates took seats on the floor, causing quite a stir. The next morning Henry and Martin Luther King Jr. tried to persuade the delegation to accept the compromise, but they refused. They felt that blacks always had to compromise. The young black veterans labeled the compromise as back-of-the-bus. They fiercely believed that the MFDP should not place politics over principle. When the delegation went to the convention that afternoon to again take seats again they found that all the chairs had been removed except three. The three remaining seats were for white delegates, and they were surrounded by security. The sixty-eight MFDP delegates stood up throughout the evening.

Elected to the House of Representatives

Henry eventually moved away from the MFDP since their views seemed to become more radical over time. He instead helped to form the Loyalist Democratic Party and chaired the delegation for the 1968 and 1972 Democratic National Conventions. Henry attempted to run for Congress in 1964, but he was accused of not having the required number of signatures to do so. In 1965 in another Freedom Vote mock election, Henry won a U.S. Senate seat. He was actually elected to the national board of directors of the NAACP. Unification of the Democratic Mississippi parties was completed in time for the 1976 Democratic National Convention. Henry was the co-chair with another delegate. In order to allow more blacks to be elected to the Mississippi legislature Henry filed suit in 1980 for redistricting. This change resulted in blacks being elected, including Henry’s election to the Mississippi House of Representatives. Henry held the position from 1982 to 1996.

Although Henry’s name and accomplishments are more well-known in Mississippi, his work for integration and equality for blacks was felt around the nation. He operated from grass roots to administrator, and from marching to planning in the fight against segregation and for equal rights. He directed much of his efforts to Coahoma County, but his relationships with national civil rights leaders and his fierce dedication had long-range impact. He maintained his position as president of the Mississippi NAACP until 1994 when his wife Nicolle died. Henry died in 1997 of heart failure in Clarksville, Mississippi.

Henry, Joseph [next] [back] Hendry, Gloria (1949–)

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