Forest Thomas Henry, Sr., community activist, entrepreneur, and labor organizer, was born in Houston, Texas, on August 1, 1912. He was the son of John J. Henry and Arilla Smith and was a longtime resident of the historicth Fifth Ward community. He received his early education in the public schools of Houston and was a member of the first graduating class of Phillis Wheatley High School in 1929. He subsequently enrolled in Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College (now Prairie View A&M University) but was unable to complete his degree due to the death of his father. Afterward Henry gained employment at Hughes Tool Company. His first signs of activism were manifested at this place of employment when he organized a chapter of the AFL-CIO in order to help employees receive equal pay and fair treatment as workers. Henry eventually became a national representative of the AFL-CIO.
Supporting his wife Belzora and their four sons and three daughters, Henry, during the Great Depression, opened his own business, FT Henry’s Income Bookkeeping Services, to supplement his income from Hughes Tool Company. This business became well- known and was especially popular during the income tax preparation period. Owning a business made Henry more cognizant of the need to assist the black community in the Fifth Ward.
Fired from Hughes Tool Company in 1944 for his union activity, Henry quickly went to work for the steelworkers union until July 1949. The accomplishments and actions taken by Forest T. Henry as a community leader and political activist are numerous. He organized the first civic club in the Fifth Ward and served as its president for many years. Likewise he was instrumental in the organization of the Greater Fifth Ward Citizens League and appeared before the city council many times advocating needed change and improvement in the community. Using this organization as his foundation, Henry became consultant to and co-organizer of the Harris County Council Organizations. Henry was most visible in the struggle for African Americans to gain the right the vote without impediments. He subsequently became one of the few African Americans certified by the state of Texas to be a poll tax writer. This position enabled him to help advise citizens on how to meet their poll tax obligation and to organize large poll tax collection drives in Houston and in other cities throughout the state. He was also a member of the United Political Organization of Texas delegation to the 1964, 1968, and 1972 Democratic national conventions and a candidate for the Houston city council in the 1960s. Additionally, he was co-founder and was president of the Phillis Wheatley High School Alumni Association, an organization he served for more than twenty years.
Henry died at Hermann Hospital in Houston on January 21, 1973, and was buried in Golden Gate Cemetery in Houston.
Is history important to you?
We need your support because we are a non-profit organization that relies upon contributions from our community in order to record and preserve the history of our state. Every dollar helps.
Michael R. Botson, Jr., Labor, Civil Rights, and the Hughes Tool Company (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2005). Rosa Doyle Henry and Alvin L. Henry (children of Forest T. Henry), Interview by Etta Walker, November 10, 2012. Houston Chronicle, September 5, 2005.
Activism and Social Reform
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Rosa Henry Doyle and Etta F. Walker,
“Henry, Forest Thomas, Sr.,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 13, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
August 28, 2013
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: