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Vivian Wilson Henderson papers

 Collection — Box: 1-309
Identifier: 0000-0000-0000-0044

Scope and contents

The richness of the Vivian Wilson Henderson Papers reflect the multifaceted service of a man committed to uplifting human races, particularly that of his own.

Dr. Henderson, could deliver so decisive an economic strategy, ranging from inner group religious understanding to illustrating the parasitic nature of racism on national interest, that his expertise was sought instantly. The papers personify Vivian Henderson's commitment to these as well as the quiet leadership he expended toward education and mankind in general. Records relating to studies of the black labor market and the purchasing power of African Americans are the brunt of material on Henderson, rivaled only by the records amassed as a result of his long administrative service as President of Clark College. The papers provide unique information regarding Henderson's service on commissions and task forces appointed by Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Gerald Ford to make recommendations on civil rights, rural poverty and inflation. Hence, Henderson moved comfortably among the group of "think-tanks" utilized often on the national scene, not to mention his emerging role as an insightful individual whose expertise could be counted on for significant local issues. Relevant papers include those covering his work as Education Co-Chairman, Goals for Georgia Progress, appointed by the Honorable Jimmy Carter, Governor of Georgia and as Co-Chairman, Reorganization Task Force, appointed by the Honorable Maynard H. Jackson, Mayor of Atlanta in 1973.

As a young economist at Fisk University, where he served for 14 years, Vivian Henderson "wore many hats." Accolades include Professor and Chairman of the Department of Economics; Acting Director, Race Relations Department; Director of Summer Session, 1958 - 1965. Administrative correspondence, student application and class role material, publications and departmental minutes are important subseries covering his significant work as Chairman of the Department of Economics and economist at large.

In the North Carolina State University series, material can be found relating to a book project that Henderson undertook, namely to address the rate of economic development in the historic region of the South. From the material, a researcher can analyze factors which brought the region to its present level of development, and which set it off from the rest of the nation as a "distinctive region."

The Clark College series is a massive body of correspondences, working papers and administrative files relating to Henderson's administrative profile as Clark College's President, 1965 -1976. Though it is in this material that we see what college related developments take place during his Presidency, the Audio-Visual series is worth a second look for a well-rounded perspective. It contains audio-cassette tapes of speeches and interviews he gave as President of Clark College.

Though Henderson's ubiquitous lifestyle took him to many interesting places, a place no less important to him was his home and family. The Audio-visual series reveal home films, slides and photos that attest to his personal zeal for travel, friends and family. His quiet hands-on and involved character is illuminated in the black and white and color photos, dating back to his years at Fisk University.

Of interest in the Affiliations and Memberships series, among other things, is the Old Penn School file containing papers regarding the founding of (reportedly) one of the first schools built for the purpose of educating Blacks. Materials relating to the desegregation of Tennessee's higher education institutions are also worth a closer look.

Astounding however, are the places Vivian Henderson's public life took him while maintaining the gargantuan task of running Clark College - namely the top ranks of Ford Foundation's governing boards. These papers reveal the global issues associated with such an infrastructure. Other papers illuminating his extensive civic service are those of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, National Bureau of Economic Research, and the Southern Regional Council.

Last, but not least, the Personal and Family Records show a sum total of Vivian Henderson. The special tributes to Henderson - from near and far - reveal him as a fine lay leader and humanitarian, which is clearly reflected in these papers.

Note: The date range of this collection (1940-1976) represents dates for the "bulk" of material here. This infers that material falling beyond the date 1976 was so minimal (i.e., a few clippings, journals, and a posthumous plaque awarded in Henderson's memory) that the material did not merit inclusion in the final date range.


  • Creation: 1940-1976


Rights Statement

Atlanta University Center, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Archives Research Center does not own the copyright for the manuscript or printed items in the Vivian W. Henderson Papers. It is the responsibility of an author to secure permission for publication from the holder of such rights for materials in this collection.

Biographical timeline and note

Dr. Vivian Wilson Henderson, the 18th president of Clark College from 1965 until his untimely death in 1976, was not a man who lent himself to easy classification.

His accomplishments -- publications, service on U.S. Presidential commissions, directorship of major corporations and non-profit agencies for social change and action, trusteeship of the Ford Foundation, to name a few -- read like a catalogue of resumes for several men. Whether as a scholar, an educator or administrator, he was invariably a leader and a pioneer.

The fields of economics, education and race relations felt his impact for more than two decades. His influence on Clark College was profound. In the 10 years he served as president, Henderson established major expansion and development projects for the college that included new facilities, departments and programs.

His belief in the importance of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) was unshakable. He once took the rostrum of the Georgia House of Representatives to criticize the lack of financial support for black colleges from the business community, saying, "We have grown and developed in spite of Atlanta and the South." He criticized the Nixon administration for an "utter lack of sensitivity" toward HBCUs.

Henderson justified the role of black colleges in a society seeking racial integration by noting that "we live in a pluralistic society, ... and each group has a right to exist according to its own self-determination, and black colleges are an important avenue to that determination."

A native of Bristol, Tenn., and a graduate of Slater High School, Henderson received a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from North Carolina College in Durham in 1947. He received his Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in Economics from the University of Iowa in 1949 and 1952, respectively.

Vivian Henderson taught for one year at Prairie View A&M College in Texas, and one year at his alma mater, North Carolina College. He was on the faculty of Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., for 14 years, where he served in various capacities including professor and chairman of the Department of Business Administration and Economics; director of the summer sessions; acting chairman of the Race Relations Department; and director of several institutes in social science and economics. From 1962 to 1964, he was a visiting professor in Economics at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

As one of the country's few black economist at that time, it often fell to him to articulate the position of black people in a multifaceted economy. While some talked in terms of gross national product and disposable income, Henderson talked about the need to evolve an economic strategy, a strategy that he saw as a marriage involving political, educational and social opportunities that could be developed into economic security for the poor. Henderson was a member of the 14 Man Task Force, created by President Lyndon B. Johnson to develop a new mandate for the U.S. Employment Service. In November 1966, he was appointed by Johnson to the President's Commission on Rural Poverty.

As a nationally recognized and distinguished economist, Henderson had his talents and skills utilized by the United States Government in the Office of Economic Opportunity and on the task forces that prepared important papers for the 1966 and 1967 White House conferences on race relations and employment. He presented an economic analysis of factors underlying race relations in the United States on the NBC national program "White Paper" (Dec. 20, 1960).

Henderson did considerable research on the economic development of the South and in the area of black employment and economic problems. He authored numerous publications including "Principles of Economics" (1959); "Economic Status of Negroes" (1963); "Negro Employment in Tennessee State Government" (1965); "The Economic Imbalance;" "Economic Dimensions in Race Relations;" "Economic Opportunity and Negro Education;" "The Advancing South;" "Employment, Race and Poverty;" and "Negro Colleges Face the Future." He also conducted research and writing on black markets and life insurance for the National Insurance Association.

His memberships included the boards of directors of the National Sharecroppers Fund; Potomac Institute; Fulton County Equal Employment Opportunities Committee and the General Board of Christian Social Concerns of the Methodist Church. He also served as a member of the National Manpower Advisory Committee and the National Advisory Committee for Project Upward Bound.

He also served as chairman of the Georgia Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights and was a member of the U.S. National Commission to UNESCO from 1969 to 1972, serving on education and human rights committees.

Henderson was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Ford Foundation and was president and chairman of the executive committee of the Southern Regional Council. He was also a director of the National Urban Coalition; National Bureau of Economic Research; Common Cause; Atlanta Chamber of Commerce; Martin Luther King Center for Social Change; and was a trustee of American University.

He was co-chairman of the Interstate Committee on Human Resources and Public Services of the Southern Growth Policies Board, and was chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission Health Manpower Task Force.

He was a founding member of the Black Academy of Arts and Sciences and was a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Henderson was a life member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and was a director of the Voter Education Project. Other directorships included the Atlanta Urban League; Atlanta Community Chest; Atlanta chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews; and Atlanta Civil Liberties Union.

Henderson served as co-chairman of Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson's Reorganization Task Force in 1973, and as education co-chairman of then Governor Jimmy Carter's Goals for Georgia Progress. He participated in President Gerald Ford's White House Conference on Inflation in 1974.

Henderson received the Medal for Distinguished Service from Columbia University in 1970, and was the recipient of the W.E.B. DuBois Award of the Association of Social and Behavioral Scientists in 1974.Henderson also was a veteran, having served his country as a top sergeant in the Army during World War II.

He considered his greatest achievements his marriage to Anna Powell of Bryan, Texas, in 1949, and their four children, Wyonella Marie, Dwight Cedric, David Wayne and Kimberly Anne.

Yet for all of his achievements, perhaps his greatest legacy to those who knew him was the call to share his passion for justice, his love of excellence and his profound belief in the importance of every man and woman.

One of Henderson's happiest last days at Clark College was "his" ground breaking for the health and physical education center which bears his name. On a drizzly afternoon with a shovel in hand, he posed happily for the camera.It is a good way to remember Vivian Wilson Henderson -- joyous, exuberant, impetuous, warm and building for the future.


129.0 Linear feet

Language of Materials



The collection is arranged into 13 series: Personal and family records; Fisk University; North Carolina State University; Clark College; Special appointments; Affiliations and memberships; Ford Foundation; Henderson manuscripts' Manuscripts (other); Print material; Awards and honors; Audio-visual recordings; and Memorabilia.

Preface to the Vivian Wilson Henderson Papers, by C. Eric Lincoln

Vivian Wilson Henderson would be uncomfortable in any assigned category which implied restrictions on his wide-ranging interests regarding human possibility and human need. Whatever seemed to be of critical significance to the development of the human imprimatur seemed a priori to be of critical interest to him. In consequence, in the brief greening of his professional and personal experiences he managed to involve himself in an extraordinary spectrum of significant endeavors ranging from economics, to college teaching, to civil rights, to college administration, to community and national service, to responsible lay commitment to the United Methodist Church, and to inter-group religious understanding. Still he found time to serve as a non-commissioned officer in the armed forces of his country during World War II.

The richness of the Henderson Papers is of course reflected in the extensive reaches of his multi-faceted service. Born in Bristol, Tennessee in 1923, Dr. Henderson received his baccalaureate degree from (what is now) North Carolina Central University, one of the historic black colleges he was later to consider so vital to African American development and uplift. His entire teaching career, save for an occasional visiting professorship, was spent at black colleges, no doubt affording the in-depth accumulation of knowledge and expertise which made him such an effective champion of the right, the reason, and the necessity for their continued existence.

Vivian Henderson taught at Fisk University from 1952 until 1965 and it was there that his developing insights into the brutalizing consequences of the interplay of economics, education and racial identity made it clear that economics was at the center of our racial problems. There was of course a moral dimension and there was a political dimension, but beneath all else were deeply entrenched economic factors which would have to be effectively dealt with before a permanent solution to the problem could be anticipated. Two essays, "The Economic Imbalance" (Journal of Negro Education, Winter, 1961), and "Economic Dimensions in Race Relations" (Race Relations, Problems and Theory. Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1961), presaged his lifelong efforts to illustrate the malevolent interplay among racism, economics, and education to the detriment of the black estate and the national interest.

It was also at Fisk that the young economist became one of an informal coterie of individuals whose insights and expertise made them a kind of statesmen for the emergent civil rights movement. Others in the group included Herman Long, Director of the Race Relations Institute, psychologist Kenneth Clark, Thurgood Marshall, NAACP Council, and others whose names now gild the lg of struggle for full African American civil and political freedom. Indeed, Fisk's Race Relations Department first directed by Dr. Herman Long, and then Dr. Henderson (1964-65), after Long became president of Talledega, had already become a sort of civil rights "think tank" before the Civil Rights Movement was formally recognized for what it was. The movement was in fact a grass roots determination among African American men and women to be treated as normative American Citizens, and to that struggle Vivian Henderson gave intensive leadership, research support, personal commitment, council and advice as long as he was alive.

In the meantime, Henderson's reputation as a scholar grew apace. When he went to North Carolina State University as a Visiting Professor (1962-64), such an invitation to a black professor from a southern white university was rare, if not unprecedented. Similarly, his essays which appeared in 1971 and 1974 in Daedalus, the very prestigious journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences came at a time when a total black membership in that organization was still considerably less than a lonely crowd. Professor Henderson's recognition as a scholar was matched only by his reputation as a teacher "who could make numbers talk," or offer a dimension to conventional debate which often ushered in critical perspectives which reshaped the realities of the discourse. It is possible that his reputation for critical and independent insight contributed significantly to his great demand on boards and committees charges with decisions of crucial significance. Dr. Henderson served on dozens of committees, advisory boards, and task forces appointed by the president of the United States, agencies of state and local government, national academic organizations, civil rights and social agencies. He was also a trustee for several major colleges and universities, and his critical reading of economic theory and practice made him a working member of the boards of several corporations ranging from the Benedix Corporation to the Ford Foundation.

Despite his vast commitment to his profession and the awesome demands of his secular human uplift, Vivian Henderson always carried along in tandem his commitment to the church and organized religion. A birthright member of the United Methodist Church, he served that church and others with the same vigor and involvement that he expended on the college campus, in the corporate boardroom, or giving counsel and advice to the many groups of freedom fighters whose cause was his own. He served on the University Senate of the United Methodist Church, and was president of that body at the time of his death in 1976. He was also a consultant to the Division of Higher Education, and a member of the Continuing Commission on Black Colleges of the United Methodist Church. In such posts his characteristic sound council reverberated in the policy-making counsels of the Methodist Church for all of the 106 colleges and universities affiliated with it.

Vivian Henderson became president of Clark College, one of United Methodist's 12 black colleges in 1963, bringing with him his wife Anna Powell, and their four children. He was 40 years old, and his appointment was fortuitous for the church, the institution, and for the increasingly uncertain agenda of black higher education in general. Clark was one of a consortium of 6 historically black colleges in the Atlanta University Center. But the winds of change in higher education were blowing--often at cross purposes with each other throughout America. The meaning of the desegregation of white colleges was in heated debate, and the kind of future, if any, for black colleges was far from clear. But if there were ever any doubts in President Henderson's mind about the educational needs of the American black contingent, and how those needs could best be met, those doubts do not appear in the records of his administration, nor in his public writings on that troublesome issues. African Americans, indeed all Americans had a vital stake in the black institutions which had nurtured and sustained them through the thicket of nothingness that came after slavery. They had helped to develop the cultural logo of African American identity which is a vital aspect of the African American heritage. For Dr. Henderson, black colleges were their own justification, and the proper American response to them was to invest in them and make them better, that they in turn might pay ever higher returns to the creative, cultural and economic wealth of America.

Vivian Wilson Henderson assumed the presidency of Clark with a personal commitment to move that institution steadily into the mainstream of modern education with new and improved facilities to match the new programs and new ideas on his agenda for change. He created new departments, initiated a new building program, and took to the hustings of American industry to find the financial support to pay for them. His dream was not so much to build a better black college as it was to build a better system to facilitate the preparation of African Americans for responsible participation in the rich challenge of American life. His dream was cut short by a heart attack on the 28th of January, 1976. Vivian Henderson was dead at 52.

Imagine trying to imagine what the world would be like if Vivian Henderson's life could have been extended. The mind boggles at such an assignment, but it is calmed by the confidence of the records: whatever attracted his wide ranging interest and commitment would be improved, embellished and in the common interest. Historian John Hope Franklin described Dr. Henderson as "exciting, exuberant, resourceful and indefatigable," The late Dr. Benjamin Mays, president of Morehouse College (one of the six colleges in the Atlanta University Center), when Henderson became president of Clark remembered his younger colleague as a friend of the poor and the underprivileged...and a spokesman who "proved that a man of integrity would speak his mind without offending." Vernon Jordan, Executive Director of the National Urban League said of Dr. Henderson who sat on his board for many years, and who worked with him in the civil rights movement: "He was determined to make things right for black people. He was always looking for ways to make the numbers say what the people and been trying to say with their feet."

So does the world Vivian Henderson challenged and illuminated so decisively in his brief interface with it honor his memory with the recollections of his greatness. But one stands out above all others: his daughter Kim, who was only 12 when he dies, accepts the accolades of his public adoration with the graciousness characteristic of the amn himself. Then she adds with true Henderson candor: "...but only four individuals have the honor of remembering him as a great father--my sister, my brothers, and myself."

There could be no finer tribute, nor one more well deserved. The memorabilia of the life and times of Vivian W. Henderson collected here must attest that factor, ultimately transcending all others. That is the way he would have wanted it to be.


On May 24, 1994 the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) announced an award to the Atlanta University Center/Robert W. Woodruff Library for the Department of Archives and Special Collections to process significant manuscript and archival collections on the lives and culture of prominent African Americans and institutions. The Vivian Wilson Henderson Papers represent the work of a man who, because of his insights into the consequences of economics, education and racial identity, made the world see that economics was the core of our racial conflicts.

The staff wishes to acknowledge with much appreciation the NEH award and takes great pleasure in presenting the Vivian Wilson Henderson Papers to the world community of scholars for examination, review and study. The collection represents one of America's most prominent and prolific economist of the twentieth century.

This project was, in large part, made possible by the continued support and dedication of Dr. Prince Rivers, former Interim Director, who wrote and submitted the proposal to the NEH for funding. The processing of the Henderson Papers was carried out by a team of Assistant Archivists, Jean Smith and Clarence Brown, Jr., who employed a relentless and faithful commitment to successfully complete this project. Finally, the staff is indebted to Ms. Bernice Ray, Director of the Robert W. Woodrufff Library, for her gracious and helpful support during the processing of the Henderson Papers.

Vivian Wilson Henderson papers, 1940-1976
Finding aid prepared by Kim Henderson and Wilson N. Flemister, Sr,
1996 March 14
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Processing funded by the Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

Repository Details

Part of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Inc. Repository


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