Brief Historical Summary of Henderson Institute
1865 – 1974
Prior to 1865, there was not a school in Vance County and the Surrounding Counties dedicated to providing “Colored People” an opportunity to obtain a formal education.
Henderson Institute Timeline
The United Presbyterian Church of the North
Henderson Institute Established
Henderson Institute, formerly known as The Institute, was established and operated by the Freedmen’s Board of the United Presbyterian Church through its Central Office in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. The Board discontinued an earlier school in Bluestone, Virginia (near Clarksville), and moved some of the buildings to an area that was designed for the Institute’s Campus in the Rockspring Street area in Henderson, NC. The Church then continued to advance its mission of moral and intellectual development of newly freed slaves.
J. M. Fulton, Principal (1891 – 1893)
Dr. J. A. Cotton, Principal (1903 – 1943)
Dr. J. A. Cotton was the second Colored principal. He introduced many changes, such as renaming the school. He dropped the words Normal and Industrial from the school name. Afterwards, it was known as Henderson Institute. Also, under Dr. Cotton’s leadership, the Vance County Board of Education relieved the United Presbyterian Church of oversight of Henderson Institute.
L. E. Spencer, Principal (1947 – 1969)
One of our most notable and longest-tenured principals was Mr. Leander Essex Spencer. Mr. Spencer was principal at Henderson Institute for 22 years, from 1947 to 1969. He was highly respected in the community and throughout the state, as was Henderson Institute. The school thrived under his leadership in academics, sports, vocations, music, and theatre. Upon retirement, he went on to become a very successful land developer.
Clarence V. Knight, Principal (1969 – 1970)
In 1969, Clarence V. Knight, Assistant Principal to L.E. Spencer, fondly known as ‘Boss,’ was named principal. He served in this capacity until the school closed in 1970 due to integration. Boss Knight transferred to Vance Senior High School to teach Driver’s Ed, a position he held at Henderson Institute for many years.
Class of 1930 Reunion (1975)
Library Science Building Leased (1980)
During the Alumni Association’s Annual meeting in 1980, members discussed the restoration of the Library Science Building. It was one of the last two remaining buildings located on the former Henderson Institute Campus. A committee headed by Henrietta C. Clark, Chair, met with the Vance County Board of Education and requested permission to lease the building. The request was granted, provided the group incorporated with a Board of Directors to provide overall Governance of the Association.
Establishment of the Henderson Institute Graduates and Former Students Association, Inc. (1982)
On August 24, 1982, the Henderson Institute Graduates and Former Students Association, Inc. was incorporated by the State of North Carolina as a nonprofit with 11 board members. Henrietta Hatton Clark became the first chairperson of the board and served in the capacity for over 13 years, until 1998. Other chartered members included Elizabeth Wilson (Secretary), Allen S Brown (Treasurer), James P. Green, O.T. Robinson, Raynah Adams II, Randolph T. Baskerville, Arthur Williams, Leslie Davis, Ralph Glover, and Johnny Johnson.
Ten Year Lease Signed (1983)
In 1983 the Board of Directors secured the use of the Library Science Building with a ten-year lease signed by Dr. Hilton Lewis, Superintendent of Schools. Elizabeth Wilson and Leslie Davis were in attendance as representatives of the Henderson Institute Graduates and Former Students Association.
Property Deeded to the Association (1986)
The Vance County Board of Education deeded the property rights of the Library Science Building to the Association. The contractors selected to renovate the property were Rembert Ford, former Henderson Institute teacher, and Lenton Jordan, Vance Senior High School teacher. The restoration was funded by contributions from graduates, former students, friends and the General Assembly.
The HI Museum Was Established
The Henderson Institute Museum was established under the leadership of Wendell P. Taylor, Director. On November 29, 1995, the Henderson Institute Library Science Building was listed in the National Register of Historic Buildings by the United States Department of the Interior. The historical registration happened under the direction of Ms. Ruth C. Burt, who retired in September 2010.
HI Curator Title (2010)
The title Museum Director was changed to Curator in 2010; Prior Directors were Mr. Wendell Taylor and Ms. Ruth Burt. In 2010, Ms. Edna Scott was named Museum Curator. Many changes and expansions to the HI Museum were made under her leadership. For instance, Ms. Scott added numerous artifacts and memorabilia to the museum. Other additions included the Military Wall of Fame. The Wall highlights the military service of former students, including several members of the Tuskegee Airmen. Ms. Scott resigned from this position in March of 2021. Specific plans for the operation and oversight of the HI Museum are forthcoming.
The Henderson Institute Alumni regularly reunites to award scholarships, conduct service projects, celebrations, and to network with fellow Panthers. The Association's primary goal is to pass on the legacy to the next generation of young men and women residing in Vance and surrounding counties, hoping that they will pay it forward. The HI school motto, “Lest We Forget," beautifully captures this sentiment.
The HI annual reunions have been the source of continued pride for over four decades. These meetings and reunions have forged countless long-lasting relationships. The Association looks forward to hosting these reunions for many years to come.
Over the years, all former Board members, National Executive Committee members, Chapter members, along with the HI membership body, have done an excellent job in sustaining and maintaining The Henderson Institute Graduates and Former Students Association’s Legacy.