Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 4, 2004
Mr. Jonathan McElvy, Editor
The Demopolis Times
315 East Jefferson Street
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Dear Mr. McElvy:
I am writing this letter to pay tribute to a man that was my principal, mentor, and a friend in the field of education. I am referring to Mr. J.R. Henderson.
Word of his passing brought an end to an era in the history of Demopolis, known as school integration. I have known him since 1969 and over the years I watched him pave the way for many new educators. He was a visionary leader whose innovative and astute leadership enabled him to navigate the Demopolis City School System through turbulent times.
In the 1969-70 school term I was an eighth grade student. This was the year that the federal government mandated initial integration of the school. A random number of us were sent from U.S. Jones High School to Demopolis High School. We faced terrible opposition from some teachers, faculty members, and students. The “N” word was quite common from students and some of our teachers had a problem pronouncing the word Negro. Mr. Henderson, under great pressure from parents and co-workers to maintain the status quo, would not bow to what he felt was wrong but stood firmly on what he felt was proper treatment for all. He maintained a conductive atmosphere for learning under intense pressure from his critics. He weathered the storm, pulled things together, and maintained a GREAT high school. I read in the newspaper just recently about the number of expulsions from the high school. I thought this would have never happened under Bob Henderson’s watch. He knew how to communicate with students and parents. His success was such because he had the support of a great superintendent Mr. A.A. Knight.
I returned to Demopolis High School as an instructor in 1978. Mr. Henderson was my principal. I found him to be a fair person and one with great sense of humor. He had to deal with some faculty members that had not quite moved in thought to the reality of racial equality in the workplace. This did not deter him from making difficult but just decisions. As a result of his insightful leadership, I and other professionals became great teachers and maximized on our potential. I am forever indebted to Mr. Henderson for his contributions to education and my career. He allowed me to develop into a great teacher and one that loves Demopolis. I pay great homage to this phenomenal person and others like him such as Mr. A.A. Knight, Dr. James I. Bell, and Mr. B.R. Jowers. He, as far as education in Demopolis, is considered one of our unsung heroes.