What is: The lot where Aaron Henry’s 4th St. Drug Store was located, Clarksdale, MS
What was: Aaron Henry was born in 1922, the son of sharecroppers. He joined other members of his family and worked the cotton fields on the Flowers Plantation outside of Clarksdale. He was drafted into the United States Army in 1943 and served in segregated units in the Pacific theatre. He decided then that when he returned home to Mississippi, he would work to gain equality and justice for Black Americans.
He used the G. I. Bill, a law that provided educational benefits for World War II veterans, to attend Xavier College (now Xavier University) in New Orleans. Graduating in 1950 with a pharmaceutical degree, he returned to Clarksdale and opened the Fourth Street Drug Store along with K. W. Walker, a White Mississippian. It was the only Black-owned drugstore in the area. As Henry recalled, “Our drugstore was to become the gathering place and the hub for political and civil rights planning for three decades.” including voter registration and boycotts of downtown merchants. But being in the movement had its costs. During his fight for civil rights, Henry was arrested more than thirty times, his wife was fired from her job as a teacher, and both their home and his store were firebombed.
Dr. Aaron E. Henry was a prominent NAACP leader, state and national political figure. He served as a mentor to many of the young kids involved in the 1960s civil rights efforts. Henry once said that his grandmother had inspired him to become involved in the struggle for civil rights. She told him he was just as worthy of justice as any White man and that “they put on their pants the same way you do, one leg at a time.”
Historian John Dittmer noted, ““That he [Henry] stayed in Mississippi, and for the next three decades fought for human rights in a different political environment is a tribute both to his commitment and to his under-appreciated role as Mississippi’s most important black politician since Reconstruction.” He was one of the most important of mentors for SNCC activists when they came to Mississippi.