Saturday, November 2, 2013
Mary Henry: 90 years and going strong
Mary wears her nine decades well. She's a spry and intrepid walker (you can see her ambling around the 'hood many days), and if we hadn't been told, we wouldn't have believed her life began during the Roaring '20s.
Mary, a former Seattle Public Schools librarian, is actively involved in the community, most recently being the instigator of the Madison Park Tree Walk. Her civic efforts include archivist of the Epiphany Church, contributor to website HistoryLink, and board member of both the Seattle Education Foundation and the Association of King County Historical Organizations. In her role as a historian, Mary for many years edited the Black Heritage Society Newsletter and was author of the book, Tribute: Seattle Public Places Named for Black People.
Pearl's Secret: A Black Man's Search for His White Family," written by her son, Neil Henry, Dean Emeritus of the University of California-Berkeley School of Journalism. The book tells the compelling story of Mary's family, which traces its descent from the post-Civil War union of a white former plantation overseer, Arthur Beaumont, and a freed slave, Laura Brumley. The "Pearl" of the book's title was their daughter and Mary Henry's grandmother.
"My family's experiences, like those of most black people in America, have mirrored the stresses and strains of our nation's racial history, from slavery to Jim Crow to the integration of the 1960s and on into the complex world of multiculturalism that seems to define the present," Neil Henry writes.
When Mary moved to Seattle there were only 40,000 blacks living in the town, few of whom were in professional roles. Mary and her doctor husband, John Robert Henry, Jr., would see their share of discrimination here but also be part of a sweeping post-war generational change. As their son Neil notes in discussing his family's experience, "Our lives reflect the kind of unusual but significant progress made by advantaged black Americans over the generations since slavery, despite the hazards of racism and discrimination." Mary and her husband raised four children, one becoming a lawyer and two following their mother into education. Their story is a big part of Pearl's Secret.
In doing our research on Mary we came across a Seattle Times article where the writer, Jerry Large, noted that Mary came from "that generation of black people for which dignity was paramount," adding "her bearing and her language are gracious and graceful." To that we can attest.
Happy Birthday, Mary!