Henderson Institute Legacy Society
Henderson Institute was established to serve the minority community in ways that would meet the needs of local industry. Circumstances added to its purpose the need to uplift the standard of living in the minority community. Meeting industry needs required offering the approved high school education curriculum and providing the skills and trades needed to work in local factories and on local farms. But improving living standards in the Black community required much more of a scattered approach. This approach served as a beacon of light in an area where hope was extremely limited. Were it not for the wide range of services offered by Henderson Institute, most of our parents and grandparents would not have had the opportunity to do anything more than mill work, domestic work, or farming. The success of Henderson Institute resulted in a legacy of continuing education, self-employment, caring, sharing, celebrating and persevering. This legacy belongs to all former students and their descendants. In fact, it belongs to all of Vance County and the areas where residents moved to and brought the education, skills, and sense of community that Henderson Institute provided. Annual membership in the Legacy society of Henderson Institute allows us all to honor the steps towards independence fostered against great odds.
From it establishment to the close of the school, Henderson Institute existed in the midst of factories and farms. The Cotton Mill, Pickle Plant, Hosiery Mill, Bagging Mill and JP Taylor tobacco factory were primary places of low-wage employment. The only hope for making more money than the factories were paying, was to risk your life at the coal mine just outside of the city limits or to leave the area. In later years, as Black folk were trained to work with more sophisticated machinery and acquired the soft skills needed to work with people from other cultures, the Glass Plant hired a few minority workers. So Henderson Institute prepared people to fill those employment rolls.
Community needs were addressed in many different ways. For instance, to help families preserve their foods for eating during the winter, a Cannery was opened. Residents were able to come over and be taught how to safely put food away for a later day without the risk of contamination. Teaching was a hands-on process as residents learned to use the equipment in the Cannery and enjoy socializing while doing what had been such an arduous task.
Since so many Black families operated farms, many local residents did not have the opportunity to finish school. Also, many residents who moved to Henderson from other areas came from communities that did not have a high school for Blacks. Henderson Institute started a night school for those adults, many of whom got their GED and were able to go on to Community College and gain skills to work in other industries.
Inasmuch as there were no recreational outlets in Henderson for people of color, Henderson Institute offered an array of socials, plays, bon fires, neighborhood meetings, talent shows and other special events. It’s amazing that one place could meet so many needs!
The legacy of this great institution must be preserved. Not for the sake of the institution but as a continuing beacon of light to remind us of what can be done when people care enough to act. Please take the time to download a copy of our Legacy Membership form, complete it and send it in to help Henderson remember and maybe even mimic the days of Henderson Institute.
Thank you. Welcome to the fold of caring citizens.
Donetta G. Evans