Title: Celia Henderson
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subject: Celia Henderson

interviewer: Arthur White


W: ....Celia Henderson. Uh, give me a few ideas of your background

and how you came to this position.

H: I came in 1950;10$| jyh, teaching physical education. I remember

saying to the principal, "What do you really want me to accomplish

this year?" and he said, "Take the cheerleaders off my back."

And so I started working with cheerleaders and majorettes, and

taught physical education for sixteen years, and then when Kay

Selly retired, she, they actually talked me into this job, which

I was not sure I was going to like. This is Director of Student

Activities, and really, it's the fun things and the enjoyment

part of school that is needed for a well round developed student.

It is, involves student government, all the service, interest, and

honor clubs, the cheerleaders, the majorettes, any activity, i es-s

anything that's done outside of the classroom, and then, of course,
iv) SenA)6,ti
I have the one class, ~ir ? which is a class, they get one

credit in leadership. They are taught parliamentary procedure,

how a committee operates, how a committee works, what-the chairman's

duties are, what the duties of the other people in the group are.

W: You were here 1YS the Lincoln boycott, the Lincoln problems.

Celia, what if I ask you, the black students say that their feelings

were that they were mistreated, that their school shouldn't have

been closed, that they should have desegregated both schools, and

that way, they would have thought equal treatment would have been

possible, and that they thought a lot of resentment was built up

even before the students arrived here in Gainesville High School,

HFE 7A 2


because of the method used by the school board, and the pressure

that they thought was being put on the school board by white

parents who didn't want their children to go to Lincoln High School,

and to be involved in that kind of school. What are your, what are

your impressions? is this, is this true, is this what you felt

at that time, during those boycotts?

H: Well, I really think they were mistreated in the fact that they

did not want to come here to school anymore than our students wanted

to go to Lincoln, and yet they were made to, and our students

were not made to go to Lincoln, and that decision, what they

forget was not made by Gainesville High School, and some of the

feelings of resentment that they held, they took out on Gainesville

High School when we were innocent of any help in arriving at this

decision. This decision was made, we were told what it was, and

our job was to take the decision and do the best we could with it.

The first thing that we did, and the president of our student body

was ten feet tall that year, the boy was John King, he is at the

University of Florida. He was the only white person outside of

photog....newspaper and T.V. people that attended the meeting at

Lincoln High School when they were discussing this, and he went

over because he knew these students were coming to us, and he wanted

to know what was being said to them, and what he could do to help.

And we immediately asked all the leaders to hold joint positions

with our leaders here at school for the remainder of the year. I

think if the people who had been elected into leadership positions

had remained the leader, we would have been more successful in

integration than we were. But what had happened was, the president

HFE 7A 3


of their student body was no longer in their eyes, the leader of

their student body. This leadership changed when the integration

came. The leaders became self-appointed leaders that people

followed, and they left the elected leaders of that school in the

background. So where as we thought we were taking in the leaders,

the president of senior class, the president of eleventh grade

class, and making them co-presidents with our existing presidents

at Gainesville High School, we really didn't have the people

in leadership positions in those jobs.

W: Was itAMosely, the one who led the marches, was the real leader?

H: No, by, by the time they got here, this had shifted a third time.

The president of the student body was no longer the leader, Mosely

was not the leader, and there was a, I wish I could call the name,

and I can't, was really looked to to lead after they got over

here, so it changed three times.

W: What was his position, this was he Black Power?

H: I really don't know, I, I would, I'm not hesitant, I'm not answering

because I don't want to, I'm answering because of ignorance, I

really don't know why, except that they liked what he was saying

and what he was doing, and the action that he was taking. So actually,

we were trying to work in student government with puppets, with,

with people that were being led by other people, and so we-

weren't always able to deal with the problem then, he had to go

back and tell him what we had been talking about, and get a reaction

and come back before we could sit down and talk about the problem.

By the next year, this situation had been eliminated.

W: What happened? ....racial incidents and was there trouble?

HFE 7A 4


H: Yes, we had, I would call it more misunderstandings than racial

incidents. They were misunderstanding of the races, and I think

the hardest thing was they were not trusting of what we said or

what we did. And I got accused by the white students of favoring

the blacks, and I got accused by the black students of favoring

the whites, and there was almost no way that you were a neutral


W: One of the interesting things that the students mentioned was the

siding of representation in the senate, three blacks and three

whites. But the student body i~4tgf seventy per cent white,

thirty per cent black, I believe that's correct, and the whites

could have voted in a block of white senators and had completely

controlled student government. W/ll, you first went through a

joint period, where you held offices coinciding with each other,

and then you went through a period of this representation. Could:

you tell me how that came about, or what the outcome was?

H: Uh, it was probably the smartest move we ever made here at Gainesville

High School, and I will attribute it to my, our principal at the

time. We knew that whatever was said because they were, the blacks

were in the minority, they felt that they would be, were being

pushed around. We felt there should be some place that they would

feel secure, that there was a one to one discussion of ideas and

faults. Uh, a one to one voting in of rules and regulations, that

this wasn't something that was pushed down their throat, but some-

thing that helped make. And a lot,'there was, had to be a lot

of give and take. If/we kept referring to the white students, that

they had given up nothing, the black students had given up their



H: school, their home, their traditions, to move into our school in

which we must make it their school as well as our school, it had

to be a united school, and so welconcieved the idea, and it was)

I think 1aOi probably that caused as much problem with some of the

white students saying exactly what I said, that that was not

even the ratio in school. It was a seventy-thirty, and we were

making it a fifty-fifty. But it was the only place that it was

feasible to do this kind of thing. Now, we did have a student

advisory group. Uh, but most of the people that ended up in

senate with a three and a three e e from each grade level)

also were on the student advisory committee. So actually what

happened is our student advisory committee has not been as, there

has not been as much need for it because we have this every day

in senate, and if a problem comes up, as came up last year, uh,

we had more, only one problem during the entire year, and that was

in which four black students were involved in not letting a white

teacher detain them in a room where she was trying to hold them

in the room until a dean came2 /nd in their attempt to leave the

room, they brushed against her and knocked her down, it was very

interesting that those four black students, before they were ever

even apprehended by the principal reported to senate to discuss

their problem with senate, and what had happened. We knew then

that they had great respect for what would happen to them in

senate. My first question when they came in was "Have you seen

Mr. Board?" and they said no. When I checked with Mr. Board,

he didn't even know who the four boys were. But they had immediately

come to a place where they felt we would listen to their side of

HFE 7A 6


H: the story. And I think that was a great credit to the group.

W: How did this develop, this changeover? Why did this occur, that

senate had so much, they had so much respect for this group, and

it occurred through the mechanics, perhaps, of the choice mechanism,

and the one thing the black students mentioned was that the election

of a black president was important and you were mentioning an

incident in relation to that, you know....how did this whole change

take place?

H: Well, I think first of all, we had to get the black students that

had the respect of all students in school. You can't, with a

seventy-thirty ratio of black and white, a black president could

never go in, just being voted for by black students. And this

happened to be a, a, the type of person that was elected first

was Joe Kemps last year. He was an athlete, he was a Christian,

he was a person who treated everyone alike, black and white. He

was easy to get to know, and so he won the respect of the students.

I think a lot of the intelligent white students realized that the

best way to have something told to a non-believer was by, to be

told by someone of their own race. And this was true, this worked

this way. I think that Melvin is, uh, in many respects, uh, number

one, I.Q.-wise, much higher than Joe's. He has problems with

communicating a little bit more than Joe does, but he is an extremely

serious man, and this, this has bothered me that he might not be

able to carry the person that isn't so serious along with him,

where as Joe did not have this difficulty at all. But I know it

has helped, and maybe I don't know exactly the answer of why,

except that they, the black students can see that if you have it,



H: y6u will succeed as an individual. You have, we have got to get

away from looking at this as a color, but this is a person. And

if this person does what he should do, and is great, he will get

what is his reward.

W: DO you agree with the tone of that class I spoke to that essentially,

many of the whites, especially seem to think things are getting

better and better, and more and more integration happening,

intermingling between the races, and interracial dating ia even


H: I, I think it'll be a long time before social integration will

ever take place. Any, exactly the same amount of time that I think

for uh, different, people from different straits of life ffom

socially integrating. I think home situations have a lot to do

with it, the kind of home you live, and you're not going to be as

quick to visit back and forth if your backgrounds are totally

different. Uh, I know that there is family pre judices on both

sides. That they feel like they, it's fine for them to go to

school together, and it's fine for them to study together, but I

don't want my child, or my son, or my daughter dating a white

student or dating a black student, let them stay with the people

of their own kind. And this is not unusual, you, you see very few

intermarriages between Chinese and Americans, and Japanese and

Americans. You see more than probably you see of black race, but

there are a lot of people that want to stay, there are a lot of

people that if you're a Catholic, they want you to marry a Catholic,

and if you're a Jew, they want to marry in the Jewish religion.

W: Did you.hear what that girl said, there was more problem in the


HFE 7A 8


W: white families, prejudice than the black family's prejudice?

H: I think that it's more because there are more white students here.

And I think probably more would come to light.

W: But percentage-wise, it's the same?

H: Percentage-wise, I would say it's roughly the same.

W: How about the fact of living in separate neighborhoods, the segregated

factor of....

H: I think that this is a very strong thing, if, if I lived right

next door and I had children and they are thrown together in a

play situation with the children next door, I think it would be

much more common.

W: Surprisingly, most of 4Me young ladies said in here that they really

didn't think, well, they had neutral, or blah feelings about the

so-called inter-human values of the integration experience. In

other words, the Supreme Court was saying in '54, that .l.i 't.h.

America has become an integrated society. The black-white ratio

has still, has to diminish, and prejudices against the blacks

are restricted out till we have to diminish, these are supposed to

be the outcomes in a racially integrated situation. Well, these

young ladies gave the impression that they'd just As soon have,

stayed in a black school, just as soon stayed in Lincoln High

School, even with it's inferior accommodations. That coming up here

did open some opportunities, but didn't make up for all the trouble

and frustration, and they just, just come here 'cause they sort of

have to come here, and didn't really feel it was worth going through

all that, really worth it. What is your feeling, do you feel that

integration is worth it, and that's what we're striving for?



H: Well, first of all, I'm very surprised, because I'm looking at

three of the girls you just talked with, and, and two of those

have made quite a name for themselves with their voices since

they have gotten here. Those, Bea and Liz are, uh, sing duets

and trios, and have entertained quite a number of groups here.

They would have never had this opportunity, so I'm sort of a

little amazed that they would say that, but I have seen white

students from illiterate families recieve an education A/nd both

the family and the children be sorry that they have gotten the

education, because what it has done is separated them from family

and from friends. And I think maybe this might, yes, might be

sort of the same type of thing that they are, they are opened up

to avenues that their parents don't know.

W: Friends, they said, were over there....

H: Yeah.

W: ....community friends. There were VY_)_ benefits at Lincoln

that were lost at Gainesville High School, that really didn't make

all the new opportunities worth that much, considering all the

frustration, insults, maybe it was done differently, they did mention

they might have thought it was worth it then, but they had suffered.

H: Well, I, I'm remembering the secretary of the student body, the

first year after we integrated, which was '72, and the first problem

that we had, I watched, and I had worked very closely with this

girl, and I watched, and she turned around and looked at me before

she joined a walk-off from this campus. And after, when they came

back, she came right into my office, and she said, "Miss Hendrickson,

I know that you can't understand what I did today," because I'd

HFE 7A 10


H: been saying one thing, and then I did something else. But she

says, "You don't have to go home and live here I have to go home

and live." And those are the people that are going to put pressure

on me. But she says, "I want you to know, it hurt me, because

I was doing something you didn't think I should do." So it, really2

you feel sorry for them, because they have learned a reaction that

they can't always follow because of peer pressure.

W: What are the types of incidents that you have here, racial incidents,

which you had here during the early years, I guess the first

year of desegregation, and probably diminishing the second year,

and finally the thirdyear, I suppose, nothing at all. What are
they, boycotts, walk-offs, rae .... i 7
vIcw&IC +1v a lot 04 e
H: Uh, most of them were. .H:I think we had, oh gosh, I can't even

remember, and I hate to misquote, but I think at the most, three

such incidences.

W:A during the first year?

H: That was during the first year. Uh, a lot of pressure was brought

on certain teachers, that they felt were not treating the black

students right, and a lot of times, when I say felt, this was the

truth. I know particularly on teacher that they sort of crucified

mentally, was one who had really done more than almost any of us

here to try to include black students. But in trying to do this,

some that she felt were not capable, she did not include. She didn't

just open it en masse to any black student who wants to do this.

And she' tried to still hold the standards of her subject matter.

W: That a special course that she had?

H: Uh huh. And really, she was the one that was hurt, where as somebody

HFE 7A 11


H: else who had said, "Nope, I'm all set, I'm not going to have

anything to do with anybody." They suffered less than somebody

who really was trying. Uh, the interest, interesting thing happened/

the very first, the president of the senior class, of course, had

come right into senate from Lincoln, because we incorporated, as

I said, their presidents jointly, and the first incident, Coach

Nowerblack(?) told me after it was all over with, said, "Celia,

I want to tell you something, because you probably won't ever know

it," said, "the president of Lincoln from the twelfth grade class

stood outside your door, and when they started coming up toward

your office, he said, "Nope, you're not going in there."" That boy

never did tell me what he did, so on graduation night, I went up

to him and I said, "I want you to know something that happened

that I know about." And he just beamed, he said, "Well, Miss

Henderson, you know that I just knew they weren't thinking, and

if they started up to your office, I wasn't going to let them

come in." So, it, it's sort of like, if I get to know you and

I feel you're fair, then I'm with you too.

W: Tell me, you said there were about three incidences, what were the

nature of these incidences, were they riots, walk-outs...?

H: They were mostly walk-outs and very fewnpeople literally were

hurt. A couple of people may have been hit because they, somebody

was trying to hold them when they were trying to get away, or..,.

I, I know of only one time when the principal came back and said

"I'm going to lock the door to your office,'and don't let anybody

in." And I had expected it to be worse than it was, and it really

turned out not to be anything very much.

HFE 7A 12


W: Ajhe news media help you or hurt you and how did the police treat

this sort of thing?

H: I think the police really, I can understand why there's a-"lot of

resentment toward police, because I think they felt that if there

was any problem, it was being made-by the blacks, and I think this

was wrong. I think that because blacks react different, reacted

differently than white students did, they were quicker to say they're

causing the problem. Number one, they, by race, have probably

been a little more boisterous, or a little louder in talking, and

so it seemed that they were causing all of the confusion. But

sometimes this, well, I'll give you a good example. One morning,

we got here and somebody came running in the office and said,

"MNss Hendrickson, there's a rebel flag flying between A and B wing."

Okay, now that wasn't put up by a black student. Okay, that caused

an incident to happen, in which, it infuriated the black students.

Okay, you can say, alright, the black students did it. But they

really didn't, it was incited by somebody that wanted to either cause

trouble or wanted to get their point across that put the flag up

knowing it was going to cause trouble. I've always said that when

you wave the red flag in front of a. bull, and the bull charges,

who's to blame, the bull or you?

W: They'd blame the bull.

H: Yeah, they blame the bull. lij

W: Did the blacks do things like the girls mentioned, ypt signs you

found in restrooms and writing on the wall, "Nigger go home" you

know, get out of our school. Did the blacks do things like that

say, "Honky, do this," or....

HFE 7a


H: NZ, I think what the blacks, the problems the blacks may have

caused was intimidation. Uh, I have....

W: They used a fear?

H: They used the fear, uh huh, uh huh, and if you don't do this,

I'll rip you up with a knife. Well, this is language that I don't

know about, and so I may think, "WellA they react differently from

the way I do," but a lot of this was scare. Of course, there

were the few that would do it. But there....

w: TheN umf(^ Kh1fila-5 ?

H: ,i.,,veah, well, I don't know if there was on'campus. Uh, but I

mean, that it was the fear of they are going to do something.

W: You mean they tried to push people around. I noticed that the

dynamics of desegregation are blacks, very strong physical male
blacks, would sometimes just paint a locker or take a desk from

a white just to show them that's the way they get back, and they

say, "I'm taking that, get out of my way." attitude, and then

the white reacts, and then you're off, you know, that's the way

the blacks do it, the whites are good at flags....

H: Yeah, right, right, another thing is to come up and say "Give

me the money you have in your purse." And I've had blacks, and

black students walk in here and say, "I need some money." And

I'd say, "Gosh, I do too. If you find out where you can get some

you let me know, because I need some." "Miss Hendrickson, I've

got to have some from lunch." I'd say, "Then you better go some

place else, 'cause I don't have any." But, but you see, you've

got to react,Ayou do not frighten me. If I am frightened, then I'd

just be able to take your purse and go. And so I think, well,

HFE 7A 14


H: you have to go back to what's....
oft&a KVef
W: 40 you're cool,(Chuckles)

H: Well, you know, you know, I grew up with them. I grew up on a

farm, and when I say in Mississippi the first year we integrated

that was a dirty word, I didn't even want anybody to know I came

from Mississippi because they, because of the things that had

happened in Mississippi, anybody that came from MIssissippi was

this way. But I grew up on a farm in which my parents told me

if there's any trouble, if there's any trouble, you go down to

Ann's house. Now, there were fifteen white families on the place.

And I was never allowed to step inside of a white families home.

But our cook, and the person that worked around our house, they

kept me, they baby sat with me, they were my friends. And I knew

if I was in trouble, I went to them. But this is the hardest

thing in the world to explain to a black student. I have my, my

love is there, and it was there way before we ever integrated.

But they have been told so many stories that aren't true, that even

if you told this, they might bethinking, "Well, I wonder why she's

telling me this garbage ou know but I actually tried to,

with my family, before I ever was married, I wanted to teach in

a black school. And the reason I did is because I had been in

service for four years, and I had seen black women who were superior.

I'd never seen this in my life. And I saw they all had opportunities

at schooling that we hadn't given them in the south. When I came

back from the service, I said, "Mother, I'd like to go teach in a

black school here." And she said, "You would be run out of town

if you did that." So I was really years ahead of knowing that there

HFE 7A 15


H: was value there, and trying to find that value.

W: So you understand the basis, and there's no fear at all?

H: No, no. Well, really, I feel close to them, and just like I feel

like the fellow that said I wasn't going to let them come to

your office. I, I have great feeling toward this person, because

I would react, I would try to protect him too.

W: What, \A) the reciprocal?

H:. ,Iyeca.

W: In other words, good vibes, kind of intuitive?

H: Right.

W: Sureness that comes with having dealt with blacks as people, and

becoming aware of their potentials.

H: Right. I think there are bad whites, just like I think there are

bad blacks, and I think they're bad CliC6le6 just like there

are bad anybody, r? V(an eVG jC -o ,- -

Break in tape

W: You're from Mississippi, and you're of.the planter class, and you

had black and white sharecroppers, is this correct?

H: That's correct, and I, my family thought they were complete

segregationists, but I don't really think they knew what they

were teaching me, because they taught me a greater respect for the

black families on the place than for the white families, because

there was more trust, they had more trust in the black families,

and they transmitted this trust to me. For example, they would

say, "If anything goes wrong, go right down to Ann's house and

wait at Ann's house until we come home." And then I was told

I could never put my foot inside of the white family's places,

HFE 7A 16


H: white sharecropper's on the place. And so without knowing it,

they were saying to me, "You can go to the black house, but you

cannot go to the white house." And my mother was a retired

schoolteacher, she retired at seventy, and I can remember hearing

her say, "The first time a black child walks into my classroom,

I'llwalk out." And mother is, we live in a small town of about

1,000 population, and mother is now doing substitute teaching.

She's eighty-six, she's a remarkable woman, but anyway, she's

substitute teaching, and the school now, in Utica is eighty per

cent black and twenty per cent white. And at her age, and now,

and of course she has learned a lot too, she has complete control

of the students in the class, and really, I think it's been an

experience, and-that's the way I feel about it. What would have

happened to me if I had never gotten to know the black people

in Gainesville? And without integration, I never would, I would

not have known the Joe Kemps, and the Vernon McKnights, and the

Melvin Flanoys. I would not have been thrown with them. And I

think they have a lot to offer.

W: C>OUlV,_ good.

(End of interview)

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