Vermont Black History Month

Freed slave graduated first in his class at UVM, first black Phi Beta Kappa

Republished from Vermont Historical Society Black History Database

George Washington Henderson was born into slavery in Clark County, Virginia in 1850. Little is known of of his early life. Evidently freed during the Civil War, he became the manservant of a Vermont Infantry officer and accompanied him back to Vermont.

He attended Underhill Academy and then Barre Academy, graduating in 1873. He earned his BA, first in his class from the University of Vermont in 1877 and was inducted in Phi Beta Kappa, the first African American to receive this honor. He went on to finish a masters at UVM in 1880 and a Bachelor’s of Divinity from Yale in 1883. He studied further in Berlin, Germany.

During and after his school years he served as principal of Jericho Academy, Craftsbury Academy, and Newport Graded School. In 1888 he left Vermont for New Orleans where he became pastor of the Central Congregational Church. In 1890 he became chair of the department of theology at Straight (now Dillard) University. In 1896 he journeyed back to Vermont to receive an Honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from UVM.

From 1904 to 1909 he served as Dean of Theology at Fiske University in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1909 he moved to Xenia, Ohio where he served the rest of his career as professor of Latin, Greek, and Ancient Literature at Wilberforce University.

George Washington Henderson produced a couple of noteworthy works. The “First Memorial Against Lynching,” published in 1894 and sent to the Louisiana legislature was the first formal protest against lynching in the United States. His pamphlet documenting the actions of black soldiers during the Spanish-American War was the only contemporary account written of these men.

BA, UVM (1877)
MA, UVM (1880)
BDiv, Yale (1883)
DDiv Honorary, UVM (1896)

2 replies »

  1. Outstanding, it just goes to show, if you really want it you can get it
    no matter your background !!

    To all the current reparation crowd, it’s going to happen, you didn’t
    earn it, but George Washington Henderson surely did …………

  2. VT Historical Society: That is Clarke County, VA with a letter “e” at the end. I lived there for a brief time. Please correct for your records; otherwise, great story about overcoming adversity and becoming successful regardless of circumstance.

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