Nathanial “Nat” Q. Henderson, educator and civic leader, was born on September 28, 1866, in Columbus, Texas, to Henry Henderson and Mariah Campbell Henderson. His father was a teacher so his educational leadership began long before moving to Houston. After graduating from Prairie View State Normal School (now Prairie View A&M University) in 1885, Nathaniel Henderson returned to his hometown of Columbus and served as principal of the Columbus Colored School for twelve years. He then served as principal of a school in Weimar, Texas. Henderson pursued further studies at Fisk University, the University of Chicago, Columbia University, and Tuskegee Institute.
Before moving to Houston, Henderson had a distinguished political career. He served as deputy revenue collector in the Third District of Texas (Galveston), appointed by President William McKinley. At least once, he was a delegate to the Republican National Convention. He married Mamie L. Williams in Colorado County on September 4, 1893, and they became the parents of six children who all became teachers. Many of their descendants followed their lead as educators.
Nat Q. Henderson was the principal of Bruce Elementary School in Houston from 1909 to 1942 and in this capacity helped shape the lives of thousands of students. He and his faculty provided clothing and food for needy students. Henderson saw the school progress from classes being held in what was known as the "Old Red Barn” to the construction of a modern facility in 1920. Under his leadership the faculty grew to twenty-six teachers, a secretary, doctor, and nurse when he retired in 1942.
While serving as principal, Henderson took a leadership role in all aspects of the community. He was so engaged in civic, community, and educational affairs that he was known as the “Mayor of Fifth Ward.” He helped establish the first public library (Colored Carnegie Library) for African Americans in Houston, the city’s first Negro day nursery, the Dorcas Home for delinquent females, and a farm for delinquent Black youth.
In 1912 he helped victims of the Great Fifth Ward Fire, a major fire which destroyed some forty blocks in Houston’s central city and left hundreds homeless. Ira B. Bryant noted in his book, The Development of Houston Negro Schools, that “Professor Henderson was very largely responsible for the excellent manner in which relief was brought to the unfortunate” during the fire. To alleviate the conditions created by the fire, Henderson helped establish an organization that later became known as the Colored Federated Charities.
Henderson was an elder of Gregg Street Presbyterian Church (now Pinecrest Presbyterian). He and his family became pioneer members after the church opened in the 1920s. He also played an active role in supporting the Houston Negro Hospital (now Riverside General Hospital) when it opened in 1926. He was an active member of several fraternities including the Masons, Odd Fellows, and Knights of Pythias.
Residents of the Fifth Ward considered Henderson a pioneer among men who functioned as mayor of communities during times when city officials paid little or no attention to African-American neighborhoods. Though he never witnessed his students having the right to be educated alongside White children, he assumed a leadership role in every effort toward community improvements. Henderson died in Houston on January 24, 1949, and was buried in Houston’s Oak Park Cemetery (now Golden Gate Cemetery). Nat Q. Henderson Elementary School is located not far from where he lived and worked in the heart of Houston.
Patricia Smith Prather and Bob Lee, Texas Trailblazer Series (Houston: Texas Trailblazer Preservation Association, 1994). Ira Babington Bryant, Jr., The Development of Houston Negro Schools (Houston: Informer, 1935). Andrew Webster Jackson, A Sure Foundation and a Sketch of Negro Life in Texas (Houston: 1940).
School Principals and Superintendents
Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
Texas in the 1920s
Upper Gulf Coast
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