She’s inspired generations!
The first Black teacher in Stockton, California just celebrated turning 102-years-old, ABC 10 reports.
Wilhelmina Henry grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, the daughter of a railroad fireman and a teacher. Since she was a little girl, her daughter Rachelle Mimms said Henry always had a love for teaching.
“She would be the teacher. She would ask a question and if you got the question right you got to go up a step. And, if you got the question wrong you had to go down,” said Mimms.
Henry went on to pursue a career as a teacher, earning a bachelor’s degree in education from the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. After teaching for six years in segregated schools across the south, Henry decided to head west in 1947, applying to become a teacher with the Stockton Unified School District. After passing the test, Henry was still put on hold before she could step into the classroom.
“But, there were other people that said, no, time is now we need to have somebody Black in this school. We have Black children going to school here,” Mimms recalled.
That was how Henry ended up making history, becoming the first Black teacher in Stockton and paving the way for so many more after her. She taught for 52 years, educating thousands of students and eventually getting a school in the city renamed in her honor. On Henry’s 100th birthday, the school celebrated her, allowing her to tell stories to the students of her career. Now that Henry is celebrating her 102nd birthday, the Henry Elementary School Principal, Eddie “Mr. Van” Bun says she’s still blazing a trail.
“She’s a true trailblazer and she made a huge difference and huge impact on our Stockton community, especially the kids here,” said Bun.
One of those students is 13-year-old Gabriel Gonzales, who attended Henry Elementary and is grateful for the strides Henry made.
“I feel like the influence she has had on a lot of kids is very big amount because 102 is a very long time…Hopefully I can do the same thing as she did. I don’t have to live up to a long life, but have some influence on some kids, ya know,” said Gabriel.
In addition to the school named in her honor, Henry has also had a scholarship in her namesake since 1969 and directly contributed to the diverse teaching staff present in Stockton today. These days, Henry spends time with her family, taking walks with her son and enjoying each day. Her daughter is a third-generation retired teacher and is honored to follow in her mom’s footsteps. While her mom’s memory is fading, she believes that her mother wouldn’t think too highly of her history making accomplishment, looking at it more as a duty instead of something to be praised.
“I think my mom would say children are children. They need to learn and that’s what I do,” said Mimms.
Happy 102nd birthday, Ms. Henry! Because of you, we can!
UPDATE: Ms. Henry joined the ancestors on April 2, 2022.
Photo Courtesy of ABC 10 News
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