Henderson Family | Amistad Research Center
The Henderson Family were educators and musicians from South Carolina and Georgia.
The mother of Fletcher Hamilton Henderson, Sr. was Charlotte Boozer, a slave of Frederick Boozer of Newberry County, South Carolina. His father, James Anderson Henderson, was also a slave who had been born in Virginia in 1816 and brought by his owners, the Henderson family, to Newberry County in the 1850s. Fletcher did not know his father until he was eleven years of age, when he went to live with him, his young wife, and an extended family of six others. In that year, 1868, James served as a delegate to the South Carolina Constitutional Convention and was elected to the state legislature. He served only one term and in 1872, he was elected coroner of Newberry County. In 1874, he returned to the state legislature, but was not re-elected in 1876. Meanwhile, in 1875, Fletcher entered the University of South Carolina. After two years there, he transferred to the American Missionary Association’s (AMA) Atlanta University. Completing his work at Atlanta in 1879, he took a teaching position in an elementary school in Hollonville, Georgia. Upon the recommendation of Edmund A. Ware, the founding president of Atlanta University, the AMA employed him in 1880 as principal of Howard Normal School in Cuthbert, Georgia. There was only one other teacher at the time. She taught the primary grades and Henderson taught the higher grades. The school grew rapidly and was soon offering a normal curriculum for teacher training. In 1883, Henderson married a Cuthbert native, one of his former students, Ozie Lee Chapman. She joined the faculty for elementary grades at Howard and remained a teacher there for forty years.
While at Atlanta University, Henderson joined the Congregational Church, but after moving to Cuthbert he changed his membership to the local African Methodist Episcopal Church, Payne Chapel. In 1885, he became a deacon, and in 1890 he was named the superintendent of Payne Chapel Sunday School, a position that he held for fifty years. In 1929, the African Methodist Episcopal Church gave him a pastoral appointment as State Education Evangelist.
In 1885, the county board of education began to share in supporting Howard School, gradually increasing its contribution until full support was assumed in 1919. In that year, the AMA transferred title for the school property to the county on condition that it would always be used for educational purposes. The name of the school was changed to Randolph County Training School, but Henderson remained its principal until 1942. Then, having held the position for sixty-two years, he was not retired but was made honorary principal with a monthly salary of $100. Georgia, at that time, provided no retirement income for teachers. During the previous year, Fort Valley College had presented its annual Award for Distinguished Service to Negro Children in Georgia to Fletcher Hamilton Henderson. When Cuthbert built a new school in 1963, it was named in his honor.
The first son of Fletcher and Ozie Henderson was named James Fletcher, which he would later change to Fletcher Hamilton Henderson, Jr. He thought the name James was too much identified with domestic service and resented his peers frequently directing toward him the words of a popular ditty of the time, “Home James, and don’t spare the horses.” In college, he gained the nickname “Smack,” which remained with him throughout his life.
His parents insisted that young Fletcher learn to play the piano, much to his resentment. Although they had to force him to practice, Mr. and Mrs. Henderson mortgaged their home for $133 to make up the purchase price ($275) for a piano.
In 1924, Fletcher married Leora Meaux (1891-1956), who played the trumpet and saxophone, and at one time had her own band, the Vampires. She served as business manager of his orchestra, although she also occasionally sat in with the band as a replacement.
Fletcher’s sister, Irma Henderson also studied piano and participated in a variety of extracurricular activities at Howard Normal School. After completion of the high school grades, she took the normal course at Wilberforce University in Ohio. Later she received a bachelor’s degree from Albany State College. She was a career teacher of music, both piano and voice, and taught other courses in schools in Georgia and Alabama, including the elementary schools at Tuskegee Institute and Albany State College. She lived with her father after her mother’s death; after his death, she maintained the family home.
After finishing at Howard Normal School, Horace then went to Wilberforce. While there he formed a band, the Collegians, that played many of the popular night clubs in southern Ohio. In 1927, he married Evelyn Mildred Tyler of Winchester, Kentucky. Their only child, Ozie Teresa, was born in 1928. After a successful engagement with his band at Dunbar’s in New York City in the late 1920s, Horace joined the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, collaborated with him on arrangements, and did arrangements of his own. He signed on as Lena Horne’s accompanist in 1944. After World War II, he again organized bands under his own name, playing largely in the Louisville-to-Chicago territory. Later, he migrated to the west coast, where he played with small combos. Throughout the 1970s, he was the star attraction at the famous Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs.
Horace’s daughter followed the family music tradition. She majored in Piano at Fisk University. The excellence of her senior recital led her to being invited to play Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto at the national convention of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. After graduation from Fisk, she taught piano and music appreciation at Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, North Carolina. She had three children. Her one son, Alan David Burroughs, studied at Berkelee School of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, and the Chicago Conservatory of Music. He has arranged and played guitar for The Safari, a popular Chicago group.