Hawthorne resident Rev. Carnell Henderson [CH], his wife Jettie Henderson [JH], and their neighbor Henry W. Jones [J] were interviewed by Anna Brodrecht [B] and Hawthorne Branch Library manager Memree Stuart [S] on June 8, 2010. This is the 67th in a series of transcript excerpts from the UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program collection.
Transcript edited by Pierce Butler.
CH: I was born December 2, 1926. It was out in the country, the town called Corn Crossing, about five miles from here. We had plenty of food: ’coon, opossum, you name it. Squirrels, gophers. Then we moved into Hawthorne.
JH: We lived there until we moved. Nineteen years old.
J: Some sixty years ago, through unfortunate circumstances, I moved to Hawthorne, but they turned out to be beautiful because of the people I met. So, I’m very happy, and I salute the community of Hawthorne.
B: What year were you born?
J: [Laughter] I’ll let you figure it out. I was born one year exactly behind the birth of Dr. King.
I was born in St. Petersburg, and I moved to Hawthorne. For a while, I lived in the beautiful city of Campfield. I don’t even know if it exist anymore. They drafted me into the Service when I was nineteen. I spent two years in the Korean conflict, and from there on I didn’t get a chance to come back, just for short term to see my mother-in-law. I married a young lady from Hawthorne, Irma Purdy, and we moved to Jacksonville, and to St. Pete, where I taught for thirty years. She passed away in 99 and I moved back to Hawthorne to bury her, and got all the land and everything straightened out. Then I moved back to St. Pete for a while. For some reason, I’m right back in Alachua County again! I married another young lady, Peaches, who is Elvira Thomas. We do very well. I met Rev. Henderson when I was about seven years old; he and his brothers got me started in Sunday school at Galilee Baptist Church.
CH: We just loved Corn Crossing. Here’s a railroad going at a pretty good pace. What we called hobos — I guess they would slow it down for them. So, when they get by the house, they can get off, and Momma just giving them all our food! Momma kept plenty food for hobos or whoever came by was hungry. I became a fishing guide down through the years, and I just love fishing. And the sports I love: basketball. They say, “Y’all had the best basketball team in the whole state of Florida.” They beat everything local, and went to the state. This team, I believe they was from Tampa, they beat us by one point.
J: They were grown men playing a bunch of kids! In 1953, I came out of the Korean conflict, and we applied — a friend of mine, Wesley Jenkins Jr., who has passed on now — we applied to the University of Florida, and we were asked to go to Florida A&M University, which we did. He went on to be a contractor in West Palm Beach. They hired me out of A&M to teach in St. Petersburg at Gibbs High School. That’s where I eventually did the thirty years. So, it all turned out good. It was just that time. And America has been constantly getting better. Some of the finest people I ever met were right here in Hawthorne, and they happened to be White. I could get any favor I wanted from Sid Martin or his sister, who ran the store down the street. I worked for them. When I went to A&M, she sent a note with me to her brother so I would have a job.
B: The situation of segregation—did that ever frustrate you?
J: Yes. At night, I would walk from the basketball game home about three miles out in the country, and I was always afraid of what might happen to me from the Klan. If I saw a car coming, I quickly hid myself till the car went by. I always had this feeling within me, that, “Hey, you better get over there and—!” So, here I am today, eighty years old!
B: Was fear a big part of your life growing up?
J: To some extent. Now, I always was kind of brave. I’d take some big chances. I get in a boat with Rev. Henderson. And the boat leaking! [Laughter]
S: Rev. Henderson, when did you start being a fishing guide?
CH: Oh, that was way on after moving to Hawthorne. See, when we come near them where we can smell them a little bit, then we do a little bit of easing in there, paddling, and what have you. Chester Shell, heading the Boy Scouts, they’d take us over to somewhere near Jacksonville. We’d be looking for hogs, the fat ones? We’ll stay on after killing them, dress them, and could cook anything, and stay out there all night. That was a whole lot of joy out of that.
Hawthorne years ago was one big family. If you went over to Uncle Otis Terrell’s, he and Earnest Ivory, made sure that you worked. We picked beans, we stacked hay, we did whatever was to be done. We would kill hogs on the first cold day, and we shared whatever we had with everybody in the neighborhood. Black, White, whatever; you got a chance to share it. But I think that day has gone.
B: When did you notice that it started changing away from that? What changed?
J: The people. “Ah, Jesus,” I said, “you need to go into all the world and teach about Him,” and we fail to do that. So consequently, we’re paying for it. A lot of this stuff is political, and I never been interested in politics. They tried to get me to run for city councilman after Rev. Henderson had served many years.
CH: Eighteen. I didn’t run, though. All I did, went up and signed up for it.
B: So, you must have liked it.
CH: Yeah, I enjoyed; a part I didn’t enjoy, but I stayed there.
B: What did you enjoy and what did you not enjoy?
CH: Much of the changes that went about, especially over the concern about our elderly people. We found out that if you look out for somebody, somebody going to look out to get you out of the way, if it going cut them down from that greed that they have.
B: Tell us more about the community being a family, and sharing.
J: We didn’t mention the Homecoming. Now, it probably has been in existence for — sixty years? The last Thursday in June of every year. The crowd that had gone away would come back for what is now known as Hawthorne Homecoming.
CH: Let me ask Sister Henderson to interject some thoughts there.
JH: Well, the families come together. Some solicit funds for the vegetables and what not, and the meat, and they buy. And there’s a volunteer group, we cook the food and serve. People who’ve been away from home for a long time come back home to visit.
J: Last time I was there, they probably fed close to a thousand people.
B: Wow, that’s a big party!
J: I worked in Gainesville until I went in the Service. I was a garbage man. I can tell you how much I made: thirty-six sixty-four. Per week! [Laughter] That was big money.
CH: We contracted, hauling pulp wood, and I would go out ahead of them and cut down trees. We didn’t have chainsaws like now. We had a push saw, with a long, big blade on it, and we’d cut them logs. It’s a wonder it didn’t kill us. We did this for many, many years. Different times, men wouldn’t come to work. I’ll jump in and work myself on the loading, and unload. And I was a mechanic when the truck broke down. I say, “I’ll get it fixed.” I don’t understand how I did it myself. I took that transmission out, and had the clutch put in, and had it put back in the next morning.
I got out of the pulpwood and we went picking fruit down to Winter Haven. I was saving up money to build a house of our own. Later, I became a school bus driver. I didn’t drive very long; they wasn’t paying nothing much for it. I put in at Sunland Training Center. They found out I could cut hair, so, they put me in the barber shop. Then we had two barber shop. Later, I became supervisor over all of the barbers until I retired. Different ones kept up, “But he ain’t got no license.” “Anytime you see my clippers in my hand, that’s my license.” [Laughter]
S: Miss Jettie, are you from Hawthorne also?
JH: I was born in Gordon Chapel, about six miles [from Hawthorne].
B: What was it like?
JH: Well, we had a nice quiet lifestyle. My father was much older than my mother. I remember her working a lot out of the house, for different families here. And we done a lot of field work, on the farms of other people, picking beans, or hoeing.
B: What year were you born?
JH: I was born in 1931. We had a good family life. And I got married young. We celebrated our 63rd wedding anniversary week before last.
B: Oh, congratulations! Tell us how you guys met.
JH: We were both in high school. We were childhood sweethearts. So he decided he wanted to marry me and not go to college. [Laughter] I got married before I finished high school. Yeah, I finished after I got married. We had five boys. That kept me busy. When we got married, he was working for the city of Gainesville, bringing home about twenty-seven dollars a week. That was what we had to live out of. So I went to work at what was Florida Farm Colony. Then it changed to Sunland Training Center. Now it’s Tacachale.
S: So y’all both worked at Tacachale at the same time.
JH: I started in 57, and worked until 93.
B: That was a home for, was it Black and White people all together?
JH: They integrated — well, they built a facility for Blacks, and opened it in 56. Before then, it was for Whites only. The part for the White, it must have opened back in I guess 21 or 22.
B: Do you know when they integrated the whole center?
JH: They started in the late 60s to early 70s.There was some controversy, yes. Some Whites did not want to work with Black children. Some Blacks did not want to work with White children. Some of them resigned, and come back and ask for their job back. [Laughter]
CH: Tell them about that trip you went.
JH: I like to travel and he doesn’t. I’ve been attending the Baptist World Alliance. It’s held every five years in different countries. I went to Argentina, Buenos Aires. And I enjoyed it. Got a chance to see some of the country, and looked over at the snow-covered Andes Mountains. It was in August when we went down there, and it was real cold, three degrees below zero. That was in 90? In 95, we went to Australia.
B: Rev. Henderson, why don’t you like to travel?
CH: It’s just not for me. It’s stressful. I just love Hawthorne.
JH: Well, I like Florida. And I like Hawthorne. I love Hawthorne. This is my home.
S: What words would you like to pass on to future generations?
CH: I been confronting different ones about the basic thing is to have a foundation, and that comes directly from the words that Jesus left. “Honor thy father, thy mother,” that’s good, all of that is good. But when it come to “thou shalt love the lord our God with all our hearts, soul, mind and strength, then thy neighbor as thyself,” to me that’s the foundation right there. The basic thing is that love, irrespective of race, creed, or color; even love your enemies. Now, that’s not easy, but love.
JH: Well, the only thing I can say is, “Love conquers all,” so we can put God first, because God is love.
Search for “Carnell Henderson” at https://ufdc.ufl.edu/oral for the recording and full transcript of this interview.
The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program believes that listening carefully to first-person narratives can change the way we understand history, from scholarly questions to public policy. SPOHP needs the public’s help to sustain and build upon its research, teaching and service missions: even small donations can make a big difference in SPOHP’s ability to gather, preserve, and promote history for future generations.