Aaron Henry

As remembered by James Loewen

I first met Aaron Henry in February, 1963, when I was a student at Mississippi State University across the state in Starkville. I had heard of him, primarily from whites at MS State, as the long-time leader of the NAACP in the state, which of course he was. I was spending the winter term (January through March) in Mississippi to learn more about race relations and the American South as part of my undergraduate major in sociology at Carleton College in MN. So when a small team (two people) in the department of sociology invited me to accompany them on a three-day research visit to Clarksdale, in the Delta, I leaped at the chance.

I phoned "Dr. Henry," as most black folks always called him, and he invited me over for dinner my first full day in Clarksdale. I remember what he served me, because it seemed exotic to me then: shrimp and vegetables, served over rice. Coming from central Illinois, I had never before eaten shrimp. We ate in Dr. Henry's living room, and during the meal he casually mentioned that he had that week replaced his picture window, two feet to my right, because it had been blown out the week before by a small bomb. On a later visit to Clarksdale, Dr. Henry invited me to meet Medgar Evers at the farm of Elder Jones, an independent land-owning farmer near Clarksdale. Evers was talking with Mr. Jones because his house had been shot at, because he had tried to register to vote.

Despite the pressures from the national NAACP not to cooperate with SNCC, Dr. Henry played a key role in making COFO possible, I believe. He lived a long time, wrote his memoirs, and is written about in many books on recent Mississippi history. I met him at several times in later years, outside Mississippi, and heard him deliver a fine speech on one occasion, an analysis and defense of the Mississippi freedom movement at a Northern church. I hope others will be inspired to share closer memories of this important man.

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