Gwendolyn Henderson and Shirley Baxter

Recorded January 26, 2008 Archived January 26, 2008 47:25 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: GRS000859


Gwendolyn Henderson remembers her life in Tuskegee


  • Gwendolyn Henderson
  • Shirley Baxter

Recording Location

ALABAMA - George Washington Carver Museum at Tuskegee National Historic Sit

Venue / Recording Kit



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00:05 Hey, my name is Shirley Baxter. I'm 44 years old. Today's date is January 26th, 2008. We are in the George, Washington Carver Museum, and Tuskegee, Alabama, and I'm here with my friend Gwen Henderson.

00:22 My name is Gwendolyn, Kenny Henderson.

00:26 I'm 83-85.

00:32 Today's date. Today's date is.

00:38 February 26th location. Tuskegee.

00:45 Alabama relationship.

00:48 You here with me, your friend.

00:53 Oh miss Anderson. I want to start out with them the very beginning of where are you were born and when and that's what you start with that.

01:03 All right, I was born in.

01:07 Okmulgee, Oklahoma.

01:09 Because in those days students who graduated from Tuskegee.

01:15 Industrially normal school. At that time. When they graduated date since him on jobs. So my mother was sent to Oklahoma. So your mother was a student, a summative ski, okay, and

01:34 They saw that their students got to her and she taught home back porch. Most of the women who graduated from here dead and she was married to my father.

01:47 I forgot how many years but anyway, she left him when I was 9 months old. So I have no knowledge, really of him or oatmeal and we came back to Tuskegee where they were just opening the VA hospital and

02:09 My mother got a job there and talk to you until I graduated from. I mean worth it until I graduated from college. So she was one of the original workers at the VA, which is quite an honor because that was the the only African-American run VA hospital in the country and say, oh man and it was

02:40 Just opening and my father-in-law doctor Johnny. Kenny had been very instrumental in.

02:49 Making sure that it was man bad.

02:53 African Americans rather than

02:57 Why don't you wish cause quiet?

03:03 A lot of confusion and lot of

03:07 Ugly actions, but, and we'll talk about. I know. There was one action will talk about it later because I was a big one, but I mean, we prevail.

03:25 Call me when your mother move back to Tuskegee, your early. Memories are of here. The song.

03:39 But after she got the job and went to live in Texas with my aunt for a few years. And then when mother remarried, I came back to Tuskegee when I was five and I've been here ever since the in and out ever since he was Louis Pursley and he was in charge of the Department of architecture.

04:11 Tuskegee normal, and Industrial Institute, so that was a prestigious Position will itself. And so, Robert Taylor at one time was in charge of that department. Do you know what the correlation was with when he was stopped in your your stepfather began, but I really don't. But he moved into a more prestigious position, but he and Mike stepfather design, many of the bills and the science building Logan Hall to the library and get some information. We need to get out there because we know everybody gives full credit to Robert Taylor for the designing of these buildings and rubble, and there's a lot of other people involved in the success. So, definitely give him credit. I do give him credit and

05:04 And I'm so proud of.

05:07 Both of them. Because, of course, Robert Taylor graduated from MIT, and was the first registered black architect in Alabama. I didn't know until many years later that my stepfather was the first registered black architect in Georgia. He was from Joe Hart. Has he go to school? And I really don't know, but he came here and about what year would that mean? What, what time frame would that have been when he buy started there?

05:44 Well.

05:47 This was before I believe I have your soul. I really don't have the dates siblings. No, no.

06:08 45. And so what are your memories of of Tuskegee at that time? I was here at the best of times.

06:26 And I didn't know it. It's been as a child cuz I didn't realize it, but

06:33 Tuskegee, at that time, was more of a

06:39 Community work together because cuz the black folks knew their place. So the fight for us to respect the separate communities. That weird question, definitely mostly blacks in this area around the Institute absolute and then whites were more downtown downtown. As I said that, because we were in big in large part of their customers. They didn't call you, mr. And mrs. But they were courteous. Do you recall going down to in to the downtown area to school at grocery stores? Dragon Goods children's furniture.

07:36 And of course,

07:39 I didn't realize then how much each person knew his place. And so you really didn't expect. I didn't even know what to expect everything else. But everybody was lovely to hit the bank and you could go in the bank and they was so generous in helping people to get loans and build homes and the banks will run by whites. Yes. So when will you said that everything everything is good between it. But when, when was it that you realized that, there's a difference here?

08:18 It was a long time before I realized I had.

08:22 And I said, in that time.

08:25 You knew what the situation was. Do, you know, you knew you couldn't go down to the drugstore and sit at the soda fountain and you knew?

08:37 You would not going to be called miss or missus, or yet. You were treated with courtesy. I was one of those children, I guess who was just had a happy childhood and

08:57 It was a long time before. I realize it, there was this difference. Tuskegee was such a normal and Industrial Institute was a fantastic place. And there was discipline there was pride in the campus and we attracted a lot of attention from the other race on Sundays. The students March from Carnegie to the chapel. Everything is required that they go to jail. They were required to go.

09:41 The young man had their uniforms on the girls had black skirts and white blouses. The nurses were just acting just a group of beauties because they had these crisp white, aprons and caps. And, of course, the ban was just the best teachers of that with, it's very impressive to see that group marching is really is, and that went on

10:13 Until I finished high school and people would come from,

10:20 White and black with come on, Sundays to see this church. A lot of them. They had their section and it was the old chapel which was the most

10:43 Beautiful.

10:45 Thanks. I think rather. I mean, Taylor design that one, but there was something

10:57 About that Chapel that when you went in, you knew,

11:04 You would not there by yourself, guys, was there. The other beautiful part of it? Was the choir was always exceptional and behind the choir. We had these stained glass windows that depicted some of the spiritual and

11:28 Even if you had to go to church,

11:32 You really felt as if you had been to church, once you left, it was so beautiful and a great pride in that church. And do you recall when it burnt I do? Did you do the whole town and Community came to to watch it burn. And of course, at that time, they were saying it was arson, but I don't know if that was ever.

12:00 Really decided that it was.

12:09 Things you attended maybe on the can.

12:12 Let me tell you.

12:15 We were so blessed and that

12:21 The community.

12:24 Felt as if it were as much. A part of the campus, as the students, we were welcomed to everything.

12:35 The.

12:36 President brought the finest entertainment, the best, that Broadway had to order some famous people that you work all that time and all all roads. Oh, yeah, and there was an a tenor whose name I can't recall right now in Belarus.

13:10 Green Pastures, which was playing Broadway. They saw to it. That we

13:18 They brought the finest speakers and Martin Luther King came to speak and it would have been in the old chapel. Called you. I don't recall that and I may not have been here at that time.

13:35 But,

13:37 Tessie. We never felt deprived. And as I said the campus in The Faculty everyone, you felt welcome on Thanksgiving Eve. They would have church and you just did a whole group of your neighbors and left walking to the chapel. There wasn't the separation like there is to do, they always talked called to town in a gallon and back then. It seems like years ago. There was a connection, Tuskegee seem to The Institute seem to have been a woven together with so many pieces of the communities. That little bit more. It was, it was beautiful. And you just felt a part of everything.

14:30 And,

14:33 It's sad to me to see that we are separate and it said to me to know that after all the

14:45 Trauma and the work that was put into the VA hospital. They have managed to move it to my the most important parts to Montgomery and make it an historical designation for the Wheelhouse bill because of the historical value of that. That's right. And we have been there's a committee and we have managed to get marker and it's quite impressive.

15:17 But my husband's father began his name again, Howard County.

15:41 They needed a hospital and the health.

15:44 Habits, very poor and dr. Washington brought in here and

15:55 When it was decided, they needed a hospital.

15:59 There was a mrs. Mason in Boston, who?

16:05 Made the first contribution and is it supposed to be named for her? Got her grandfather? And when the doctor kidney doctor Washington that they have gotten $25,000? And when he told my father-in-law, he told me that won't be enough.

16:27 And that's Washington said, Well, if you get if you need more, you have to get it. And of course he went back to Boston and saw Miss Mason and got more in your father, was a physician to Booker T, Washington, and if he built the Hospital School of Nursing and

16:52 And where was he from? Rich was here in New Jersey know, he was from Virginia.

17:06 Graduated from Howard had to walk miles to get there cuz his parents had. No, but the pet the persons that they worked for help, teach him to read in the sofa, but when it got, he wanted to go to college, he had to walk to Hampton, and he graduated from Hampton and

17:36 Then we went to show University Medical School, I think. But he

17:47 In his memoirs.

17:50 Said he worked at.

17:53 A very fact Country Club in Virginia.

17:59 I can't call the name of that either. But anyway, he observes the niceties and the habits that you needed to, and he works there many years. And when I got through.

18:21 Hampton. And that's when

18:25 He was asked to come after medical school until he was asked to come to Tuskegee.

18:36 And when you got here,

18:40 Up. The health conditions were so bad. And there was quite a lot of diseases that could be avoided with certain Washington had said, hygiene was bad. So they that people that came here. Just did that poor hygiene and then it was a piece of a sec.

19:07 But even then Tuskegee was doing

19:12 Just,

19:14 The miraculous things, for example, the students are making the bricks to build these buildings.

19:22 And the building still standing and the buildings are still standing.

19:27 And,

19:30 That they did so much to improve the health conditions and that was the wonderful thing.

19:38 Then when they were going to start fighting over the hospital, but I think that I can wash my probably hit.

19:50 Was just saying all the beginning of that because doctor mobile, who is the next president came? And though he is back in, it didn't always agree. They played a big part in.

20:07 Making that hospital available. Not only the back storage expect to be Man by Black professionals.

20:19 And they accomplish that.

20:24 Now, there was a situation with your father-in-law being warned about a situation like you to talk about this, even though, as I said, testing you was a pleasant Town. It was not allowed to

20:47 Dissension.

20:51 So, the African worked alongside some of the white doctors in town, they

20:59 Consulted each other and respecting each other and he

21:06 He got that. The Kennedy got a call from one of these factors saying, get your family out tonight because of the Klu, Klux Klan is planning to do.

21:19 Come to your house with this coronavirus and no telling what else. So he got his children in this way, got his children out of the bed. You got them in the car and took him to Cheaha, which was the name of our station and station. And when the

21:41 Training came in, they were very careful to see where the people were, because there were other people, then the passengers, but he managed to get his family onto the train, and they went to

22:04 Michael Learned still went to Newark New Jersey first and then my clear. And so one of those children that he took with them, was your was that your future husband about how old was he when that happened? I would say about 7, what's his name? Howard, Howard and

22:30 Okay, so when that the kid is staying here a little longer. I'm not clear on how long you stayed, but he went to Newark.

22:45 And that was at the time when?

22:49 Black doctors could not treat their patients in the White hospital and there was no.

22:56 Black ice little, they can take their black patients to the emergency door.

23:04 But they had to leave and of course, they were not given the best of treatment or the best of accommodations and so far, so that the candy built a hospital and named it, the Kennedy Memorial.

23:24 And his wife who was really ill at the time, was a cook, and tactic and it would leave the operating room and go to the laundry and take the whole family. Had to pitch in and help all aspects of that man. Got a lot of work a lot. But at first, the black doctors

23:48 Supported it. And then as the years went on the fight hospitals, opened up to the black doctors, which meant they were no longer supporting Kennedy Memorial and I think that was such a cuz he had put all his life savings work and heart into this hospital. So your husband was surrounded by that medical field his whole life his whole life and then he went on to become a doctor who did become a doctor and his brother became a well-known wide world. Well-known dermatologist Jacqueline, Kennedy jr.

24:40 So that the kidney could see that.

24:45 This was not going to work, the hospital could not support in jail, so he gave it to the city.

24:53 And it has now been declared of

25:02 What do you call it?

25:06 In the marker is there and it is Historic Site?

25:14 Can you tell me where do the morning come from for them to leave a white doctor downtown?

25:21 Yeah, one of his colleagues.

25:25 Cold and then said, get out of that tonight.

25:32 Well, they first went to Newark and after he closed the house where they moved to.

25:42 Montclair and he practice there for a while, but the interesting thing was that the nursing school.

25:51 But he had started here about to lose its accreditation. And so they call that the Kennedy back. I think I'm 38 39. Just come back and put it in two shakes it and she did and so that's what I meant. So, did you go to school here? No, I went to Fisk. You went to see you and Charlie T, hate that dragons. Have fun at declared go to college.

26:40 Okay. This, how is you and you, of course, Diane Phyllis, inlander. Education. Is that what you? And you went on to? Did you said you taught some know? I did when I graduated.

27:05 Tuskegee Airmen, Haverhill coming to Tuskegee, and they had the air base and

27:13 They were so many handsome, young men that quickly got a job out there. Unfortunately, I was in love so that time they had the STP for the to put the medical doctors through medical school.

27:34 But they had to join the Army and what's it? What does that stand for?

27:43 I've never have still come to me. There's a training program, the government and you join the Army and they put you through medical school. And that's what it is armed services or something. I'm guessing positions in the middle of the war was going on. They needed doctors and this was an excellent chance for black doctors to get their training. So you were pretty much immersed then. And that told Tuskegee, Airmen time frame, but we were not here when he was going to my hair, a which was in Nashville. So I was at work and

28:35 It worked at Fisk. What did you do at Fisk? Have a freshman counselor?

28:46 I really thought I was important. It's about that time, your husband important. So your husband, he graduated, then he was across the street if my Harry and I was right over here. It's just so

29:08 When I graduated we had, we got married and he can send you to go to my hair and

29:21 And then you went to New York for internship in any children at that time was born while we were there.

29:41 Okay, we're going to track you when you finish this.

29:51 Internship. His parents. Of course, we're living in New Jersey. So we moved to New Jersey and he got a residency in Washington and Howard. So I stay there while he went through.

30:06 Washington, the interesting thing was so that

30:14 The wars were.

30:18 The government decided they didn't need so many black doctors who offices, I guess. And they.

30:27 Requested that they resign their commissions, which they did.

30:36 By that time, my husband had finished and had come back to the end. We hit just starting the office until 4 and he had to

30:50 Resigned his commission and

30:54 Then they had to get back in there. Once you resigned it. They rescind stays has them. So anyways, we went from there to Kentucky, Fort Campbell.

31:09 And,

31:11 After that.

31:14 We went came to Tuskegee and he was going to work at the VA for a while which he did. And did you ever leave just Keke after that or you were here because it is that time.

31:31 They were looking for first into the first black, this, the first flag, so he got his first job at the hospital and

31:47 Then his mother died, be with in the way he throws up. Every time they needed another person to be first. It was so he was the first black to be in charge of the northern.

32:07 Area of the VA. So you talked about how good it was here in Tuskegee when you went to other places live other places and you're African-American, what were the, what were the differences between for you? In those different places you were?

32:29 The first thing I know this was

32:34 Okay, from you first left, when we first got to living in Tuskegee.

32:44 And we shopped in Montgomery and Saturday was a big on the road, they going, but you could go in the stores. Try on the clothes in Montgomery and

32:57 If your salesperson saw something or thought you would like it. They would send it to Tuskegee.

33:10 On approval, really?

33:13 Now we moved to Washington.

33:16 And I go with a friend to one of the better stores and she wants to buy a mink coat.

33:25 And I think the little sales lady didn't know, she wasn't supposed to try it on, but her boss saw her tried to sneak cooler on an ordered it off the floor. So that was the first time I realized you could not try on clothes in Washington DC in the store. But anyway, living here at the time. I lived here was so wonderful and of course at 11, and she was everybody's favorite and the women took care of him and take care of him, dinners and so forth.

34:13 And that's fondest memory of him is that we would take him his tree to his, to his room and it was just a minute Sage Hall at the time and when you enter his apartment because of the table of the Arts table and I'm carrying this heavy tree.

34:37 And in the, on the table is the Bible.

34:41 And I go to set.

34:44 History on the Bible.

34:47 And he let me have it. He chased me a lecture that I will never forget and I cannot bring myself to put anything on the battles since we had for the faculty justify to take their meal to them. Was that something for Carver?

35:12 Enough. If somebody took the good meal, they take him for her the other day. He was just a lovely human being in the community of taking or is this year? I'm on campus. Don't cook them at home. To do you remember of what he ate? I don't remember what you did. But I remember he felt so bad. I think about the lecture given me some of his candy made.

35:50 And I don't know what he made it out of it tastes like soap. I didn't tell him that, but lovely.

36:03 Safe, haven for us.

36:09 What all the time we lived here, your biggest influence, you think on your life was there? One person that stands out. Well, my mother stands out because she came along with Booker T and he stressed cleanliness and and

36:34 Good behavior. Because there was a boys and girls couldn't even sit together and Chappell. They said, but he taught her so well. And the teachers was so wonderful and cleanliness was a big thing. And of course, my mother learned her lessons. Well, and so when I came along,

36:59 She was insistent that. I learned the ways book a tee did it. So I can clean anyting. It's booked a tee with the proud of did your mission. Your mother's name? Phelo. My name is faler Taylor and where she was from here to alaa. I think it's so beautiful and has her family lived down on the downtown Harbor.

37:38 And when her her, okay, of course, her father was white, but if we let her mother day.

37:48 The father came and asked book at either, let the girls stay on the campus and that's that was Serbian.

37:56 I asked your daughter, brought up some stories about because she's light-skinned. Do you recall any kind of situation for you? That that, that cause some type of problem for you? I never had any personal problem until I had children and we would go in the store and they want to go to the bathroom and we had to go look for the color bathroom and that they do. And of course, they want to know why they can do it that this one, but why they couldn't drink out of that mountain.

38:36 But I was just that was accustomed to it. That's the way I grew up.

38:42 But I hated it for them, but it didn't last that long. Would you like to see change for the current Tuskegee? What would make it better?

38:54 I would like,

38:58 I would like it to be more welcoming to the community right now. I think we feel as if we saw the shutout, not that we can't participate in anything that goes on the campus, but it's just a feeling.

39:18 And,

39:21 Many wonderful things that happen but the community still feels left out and that's sad.

39:33 And,

39:37 I think scholastically we're growing but for some reason, we're not attracting the student, just the numbers of students that we need.

39:51 And,

39:56 I just wish.

40:00 More students could come and more of the book of cheese.

40:09 Tenants of good living with being stressed out, that Legacy a little things you could not do when he was anything else that you'd like to share. That's just bubbling over with.

40:30 We didn't mean we get to dr. Henderson at all. Well, he's a he's a whole nother child.

40:46 After my husband has been dead two years, and

40:52 Though, I was very friendly with him. His wife. I was never in this coming year. He was always somewhere else.

41:02 But I remember driving from Tuskegee and from Montgomery, when, and I was talking to the Lord, and that's it.

41:12 In the Lord, I think I need some help and I lay that what I needed. I said, not also think I need a hug and a kiss and I came on home.

41:27 And when I got home on my door, was a note.

41:32 Let's say it. I stopped by to tell you how beautiful your Christmas decorations were. Sorry, I missed you, but I didn't get a holiday kiss. And I told him if he'd said any other word butt kiss it would he never would have gotten in there and answer to a prayer I ever got.

41:58 What is story and it was the first time that ever called a man you left this number? And for the first time cuz you know, we didn't call me again and my day. So I called him and the rest is history.

42:17 Will get married.

42:18 That's three months later. And what year was that?

42:24 We've been married, nine years Henderson, is known for his scientific work, or he is, and he was director of the Carver Research Foundation. And if you want to say a little bit about his research, no, because he has no, we don't, but

42:50 He has been some fantastic things. He's the most.

42:55 And this is the least known thing about him. I think of the students he has brought here.

43:05 And paid for their education. Really one mother told me. She said her son here, with $40.

43:14 Because Jimmy had.

43:16 Persuaded her, he needed to be here and

43:21 He took care of him from then on and when he graduated from Johns, Hopkins Medical School, he wrote Jimmy to say that he would not March unless he came and that was when I met the mother and got this store, but I have known him and still see the many many students. He is held in so many ways. Financially being the least of them. Make sure that David asked those questions. My homie. He is really exceptional and he has

44:04 He loves his students with a passion and he has kept every record of any student. Who is Damon? He asking what was his GPA from when he was? You said? I don't know, but Jimmy went open, the few files and found this one thing that your best friend, we have too much. I'd like you to do. Remember, when you first met your best friend, who was bitching, who it is, who Miss bizcard? Who took my boyfriend.

44:43 Okay, if she was here this summer because we were small community and there were a lot of young women and we were all really quite clothes. You know, what, I'm I mailed your card, her. Her maiden name, but she is lovely and smart and

45:15 It just still gives me a chill. And I know that she was the first woman to get a black American woman to get a license in Alabama. Absolute. My mother wouldn't even let me go up with the keynote and include better need. A special is the years have gone there.

45:57 My admiration and love them, his groom.

46:02 Just beyond believed they are wonderful. And they also have helped many a student with fire at the Carver Foundation years ago, and I keep telling the shoot is spoiling. We really love each other, but that's key.

46:30 Is lucky in that way. The people in Tuskegee love each other. They are very few people that you and me who will say, I can't stand someone. So with the beautiful part about Tuskegee is we liked each other and the longer we were together, the more it grew and the friends you had back in 1929, you still have and there is nothing they won't do for you.

47:04 And so it's been a very, very pleasant very pleasant life and I feel blessed and hopefully can help others to do the same.

47:19 Thank you.

47:20 Thank you. Thank you. Cut it all. So I can tell you.