Lost Memphis: Henderson Business College



Digging through some old boxes in the Lauderdale Library the other night — I was sure I had squirreled away some tasty cans of Hormel potted meat for a midnight snack (yum!) — I happened to come across a nice booklet for an interesting old school, and since you have absolutely nothing better to do, you should read what I'm about to tell you. So gather 'round and stop playing "Words with Friends," or updating your Facebook page, or Googling "potted meat" or whatever else you are doing, for just a minute, if you can.

Anyway, the booklet was the 1950 "Official Catalogue" of Henderson Business College, located at 530 Linden. The school was a two-year institution for African-Americans, offering degrees in "Stenographic, Secretarial, Executive Secretarial, Junior Accounting, Higher Accounting, and Business Administration," which pretty much covers it. Students could take courses in typing, shorthand, office machines, penmanship, and even "Filing and Indexing," which the catalog took the trouble to explain like this: "The alphabetic, numeric, automatic, geographic, and subject systems are presented in order. The study is developed through class discussions and practice assignments."

Why, it sounds fascinating — especially those class discussions about the "alphabetic system." (That reminds me of a joke told by comedian Steven Wright: "How did the alphabet get in that order? Was it because of the song?")

But I digress.

The school was actually founded in Knoxville in 1912 by George Henderson, "whose material wealth was just $2.20 and two used typewriters," according to the catalog. I mean catalogue. Henderson moved to Nashville a few years later and in 1934 came here and opened the Henderson Business College downtown at 528 St. Paul. "Many short-sighted persons predicted failure," again according to the — oh, good grief, you know where I'm getting this from — but Henderson persevered and in 1939 moved his school into a cluster of grand old homes on Linden that included an administration building (above), dormitory, and graphic-arts complex.

Again, from the 1950 catalog: "Today, Henderson Business College has made rapid strides in the training of the youth for the commercial world. After reviewing the rapidity with which this institution has developed, one becomes mystified and marvels as he revels in the history of the wonderful accomplishments of its late president and founder, George H. Henderson, whose motto was 'He profits most who serves best.'" I couldn't have said it better myself.

Photos in the catalog show imposing buildings like these filled with neat and orderly classrooms. Clearly it was a successful establishment in the 1950s. But enrollment began to decline in the 1960s, no doubt when other schools and colleges here finally opened their doors to African-American students, and Henderson couldn't compete. It closed in 1971, and the nice old buildings came tumbling down. The former school campus is now a parking lot for Mt. Olive Cathedral CME Church.

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Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and MBQ: Inside Memphis Business.  Vance is the author of three books: Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert (2003), as well as Ask Vance: More Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History Expert (2011) and Vance Lauderdale's Lost Memphis (2013). He is also the recipient of quite a few nice awards, the creator of several eye-catching wall calendars, and the only person we know with a vintage shock-treatment machine in his den. 

You can find him from time to time in the pages of the Memphis Flyer and MBQ, on WKNO television, and on Facebook. When he is not exploring the highways and byways of Memphis, he spends his time sleeping, napping, and dozing.

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