CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION

In terms of history Henry Ward Powell was a fortunate man. He was there to talk and consult with the father of the civil rights movement, the Rev. Vernon Johns. He was there when Barbara Johns led the strike against unfair conditions at the all black R. R. Moton High School that became one of five court cases in the famous 1954 Supreme Court Decision, Brown vs. The Board of Education. (Indeed, his brother, the Rev. Roland Powell, became the husband of Barbara Johns.) And Henry was there as a teacher in Prince Edward County, Virginia when it became the only county in the United States to close its public schools rather than desegregate. And Henry was also around to meet many of those who helped desegregate Lynchburg, Virginia.

And then there was Henry's father, the Reverend W. H. R. Powell. I think Henry felt very badly about how much trouble he as a young person had given his father. So, in one sense, Henry's story is the story of the prodigal son. Henry did not like to talk about this theme, but it is in his writings a great deal. And with these writings, he has indeed atoned for any misdeeds towards his father.

In addition to Henry being at the right place at the right time, we can also add that he was the right man. Henry Powell was one hell of a story-teller. In fact, one of his favorite activities was to sit with a group of friends and swap stories (with a special emphasis on the stories involving Rev. Vernon Johns). And, for over a decade, Henry wrote insightful articles on civil rights for the Piedmont Journal in Lynchburg.

As you will soon read, Henry Powell was also a great essayist. He was a man of the people, a very down-to-earth and humble man with a knack for using the right phrase to catch and keep our interests. Henry also had a great sense of humor and would laugh with that deep gravelly voice of his.

There are a lot of similarities between Henry and Vernon Johns. They both encouraged black enterprises and black wealth saying this was key to black progress. They both wished that blacks were more like some other ethnic groups like the Jews and the Asians who own their own businesses. They both rail against the apathy of the blacks and show them that they have not done enough for civil rights. They both were interested in black history, with a special passion for the Civil War.

Henry was something of a lay preacher, urging his people to be better in every way: don't use drugs, don't shoot each other, be polite, study hard, know your own history, be aware, don't be apathetic, and don't use racism as an excuse for your own impolite and inappropriate behavior.

His essays are so good because he was such a kind and decent man. He is truthful with the realities of racism with a bit of understandable resentment without out stepping over into racism itself. He also was a proponent of many attempts to honor blacks by erecting monuments, historical markers, and holding ceremonies to promote awareness of black pride and responsibility. ----- He is missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him.

Dr. Patrick L. Cooney

 

 

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