HENRY, EUGENE HERBERT, SR.
HENRY, EUGENE HERBERT, SR. (1894–1984). Eugene Herbert Henry, Sr., educator and namesake for the African-American high school in Eagle Lake, Texas, was born on November 15, 1894, in Flatonia, Fayette County, Texas, to James Henry II and Eliza Mountain Henry. Eugene had ten siblings.
Eugene Henry attended the public schools in Armstrong Colony, a freedmen’s settlement in Fayette County, eight miles west of Flatonia. He and his brothers and sisters were required by their family to perform many chores, so they took turns attending school. As a result, Eugene was twenty-one years old when he graduated from the eighth grade. However, he distinguished himself as an honors student. In 1915 he took an examination for teachers conducted by the county school board and was certified to teach, although he did not begin teaching at that time.
In 1917 Henry began college at Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College (now Prairie View A&M University), where he earned a B. A. degree. While an undergraduate there, he worked for fifteen cents an hour to pay his college expenses. Upon graduation, he was awarded a scholarship by the YMCA to attend graduate school at Howard University in Washington, D.C. During World War I, Henry served as a second lieutenant in the United States Army.
In August 1921 Eugene Henry married Mamie Althea Jackson. They had met at Prairie View. The couple had six children, five of whom (three sons and two daughters) survived to adulthood. Their marriage lasted until Henry’s death more than sixty-two years later.
Henry began his teaching career in the Waelder Community in Gonzales County, where he taught all subjects for grades one through eight. Then he taught in Fort Bend County. Later he taught school and became the principal of the school for blacks in Eagle Lake in Colorado County and served there for more than a quarter century.
Over the years, Eagle Lake has produced a number of outstanding African-American artisans, musicians, athletes, politicians, law officers, educators, religious leaders, and business people, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century. The black schools in Colorado County have produced students who went on to later earn Ph.D.s and become lawyers, engineers, and registered nurses; they also have produced a graduate who became a college president and one who became an assistant superintendent of schools. By 1917 a number of black school teachers were employed in Eagle Lake’s black school.
In 1929 Professor Henry applied to the Julius Rosenwald Foundation for a grant to build a new school for blacks in Eagle Lake (see ROSENWALD SCHOOLS). The following year, the Rosenwald Foundation awarded Eagle Lake $7,000 for construction of the school. Henry then helped raise money for the three and a half acres of land on which to build the school. Encouraged by Professor Henry, community leaders and parents of students sold pies, cakes, ice cream, and eggs to raise money for the land. Henry also asked black business owners for donations and took up special collections from local churches as well. Within six months, the required $1,365 for the land was raised. The Department of Education in Austin was very instrumental in the naming of Eagle Lake’s new black school for its energetic and optimistic principal.
Henry never gave a student a grade of 100. In explanation, he once said, “No matter if a student gets every problem correct, no one is perfect in anything he does.”
The E. H. Henry High School continued to serve the community until Eagle Lake schools were racially integrated. After that, the building became the Eagle Lake Primary School.
In 1952 Henry contacted Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson in an effort to secure jobs for his students; his effort was successful. In 1976 Henry was able to obtain bus transportation for disabled senior citizens in Wharton County.
Henry was a faithful member of the Elm Grove Baptist Church. He was a Thirty-third degree Mason, a member of the Knights of Pythias, and commander of Camp No. 132 of Woodmen of the World. He was an active member of the Wharton County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He served as the recording secretary of the Twentieth Century Baptist District Association and was a past president of the South Texas Readers Association. He also belonged to other community and service organizations, including the Wharton County Involving Committee.
Professor Henry once said, “I have been successful in nearly all of the organizations I have joined, but I am not 100% satisfied with the cooperation I receive. No matter where one goes, there is always one who does not cooperate. This is no perfect world.”
Henry had served the Eagle Lake school system for more than twenty-five years. Upon his retirement in about 1951, he was able to spend the last few decades of his long life fulfilling one of the goals that he had set for himself early in life—to enjoy living a quiet life on his Elm Grove farm. On their 143-acre Elm Grove farm, the Henrys, assisted by one of their sons, grew a variety of crops and raised cattle.
E. H. Henry died on March 5, 1984, at eighty-nine years of age. His funeral was held on March 10 at the Tabernacle in Egypt, Texas. Rev. N. Williams, pastor of the Elm Grove Baptist Church, conducted the funeral. His wife Mamie lived to be 100 years old. They are buried in the Elm Grove Community Cemetery.
Years later, in 2013, one Eagle Lake resident commented, “Prof. Henry is a hero to all blacks and many whites here. It is my misfortune never to meet him.”
Colorado County Historical Commission, Colorado County Chronicles from the Beginning to 1923 (2 vols., Austin: Nortex, 1986). Helen Craig, Email correspondence with the author, January 13, 2013. Eagle Lake Headlight, August 12, 1971; March 22, 1984. E. H. Henry, Jr., Telephone Interview by author, January 18, 2013. Eugene H. Henry III, “The Biography of E. H. Henry, Senior” (clipping), Archives of the Prairie Edge Museum, Eagle Lake, Texas. Mamie A. J. Henry, Funeral announcement, January 21, 1995, Egypt, Texas, Archives of the Prairie Edge Museum, Eagle Lake, Texas. Eagle Lake Historical Committee, A History of Eagle Lake (Austin: Eakin Press, 1987). Sandra C. Thomas, Historic Eagle Lake (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2012).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Robert J. Duncan, "Henry, Eugene Herbert, Sr. ," accessed May 28, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fhe97.
Uploaded on July 1, 2013. Modified on July 2, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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