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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Aaron Henry, April 2, 1974. Interview A-0107. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Persistent work for change despite threat of violence

Henry explains why he remains in Mississippi despite the constant threat of violence, a threat that realized itself in an attack on his home in 1969. He feels that educated African Americans have an obligation to assist other African Americans who have not "had that same advantage."

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Aaron Henry, April 2, 1974. Interview A-0107. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

When was your house bombed?
Oh, '67 and '69. They shoot it up, when they get ready. They'll hit mine.
How about the, it's a drugstore, right?
Yeah. The drugstore was bombed in '69.
Have you ever felt like leaving? Lots of folks have left.
No. I think really the big reason why not is I had so many invitations to leave, shall we say, in the black community. Somebody's told to leave town and why don't you all run him out of town. And I just made up my mind that I got a right to live where my heart desires and my means can afford. Consequently I live here. Now I've had the opportunity to go into the federal government under Lyndon Johnson or John F. Kennedy. Into a position, you know, that they had an interest in me acquiring, but I just felt that. . . . See, maybe my philosophy's all wrong, but many others who grew up as I did. . . . See I'm a son of a tenant farmer. And tenant farming, that's the poorest blot that have existed in the state. I was, after World War II, able to somehow eke out a college education. And I know many of the people who were born on the plantation I was born on, some of them are still there unknown . Well, I just feel that those of us who had an opportunity of gaining somekind of academic background have the obligation of remaining in the area to try to be of assistance to literally thousands of people who have not had that same advantage. And I know that Clarksdale will probably be a different town if I had not been mayor. It might have been for the better, I don't know. But I do know that many of the activities which we've been involved in. . . . It has been a personal kind of allegiance, a personal kind of loyalty that so many people have been willing to identify with that. Attack the power structures of various communities throughout this county and throughout the state. Now I guess half the towns in Mississippi we've led picket lines. Been in many jails. But I would imagine somebody else would have done it if I hadn't, at the same time. But sometimes I feel that it might not have gotten done. Particularly in a nonviolent way, which creates far more lasting progress than does the violent confrontation.