William B. Henry, a former member of the city Democratic State Central Committee and a longtime political operative who is the father of Baltimore Councilman William “Bill” Henry II, died Sunday at Autumn Lake Healthcare at Alice Manor of complications from Alzheimer's disease. The Ednor Gardens resident was 78.
“He was always very active in East Baltimore politics and took an interest in the young lions who were coming up,” said former City Councilman Carl F. Stokes. “He was known as one of the wisest guys in East Baltimore and was as politically sharp as they come. He was politically slick, and up and comers, both black and white, sought his wisdom."
Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, a Tuscany-Canterbury resident, was a longtime friend and political colleague.
“Before Bill got involved in politics, he was a very important part of a school for youth in East Baltimore. He was a teacher and a scholar, and then went into progressive politics for Baltimore City,” Ms. Clarke said. “I always thought of him as a political maven.”
State Sen. Cory V. McCray represents Northeast Baltimore in the General Assembly.
“I’ve known him for more than a decade. He was soft-spoken and never quick to anger, traits in the generation that I’m in, are much needed,” said Mr. McCray, an East Baltimore resident. “He was very inspiring, always listened, and was very encouraging.”
William Bailey Henry, son of the Rev. J. Wayman Henry, an African Methodist Episcopal minister, and his wife, the Rev. Mary Walker Henry, was born in Newport News, Virginia.
Mr. Henry’s family lived for a while on the Eastern Shore before moving to Baltimore in the early 1950s. After graduating in 1959 from Frederick Douglass High School, he began his college studies at Maryland State University, now the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in Princess Anne.
He then transferred to what is now Morgan State University, where he became involved with the civil rights movement.
Since 1955, Morgan students, aided by a contingent of Johns Hopkins University students, had been picketing the Northwood Movie Theater in the Northwood Shopping Center, challenging its whites-only policy. Other businesses that were the scene of sit-ins included the Arundel Ice Cream store and the Hecht-May Company Roof-Top cafe.
Mr. Henry had been part of the movement that culminated in February 1963 when blacks were welcomed to attend the theater and patronize other businesses in the shopping center.
Mr. Henry was 26 years old when newly elected Mayor Thomas D’Alessandro II named him youth coordinator in 1967 and placed him on his senior staff.
“D’Alesandro inspired many newcomers to city politics," Mr. Henry’s son wrote in a Facebook post that was included in Baltimore Magazine’s obituary on Tommy D’Alesandro. “Looking back on the mayors of Baltimore in my lifetime, ‘Young Tommy’ stands out as having recognized the importance of all young people, especially in terms of their ability to move society forward.”
“He became part of a group of activists who shifted their efforts away from protesting government in favor of trying to make changed within government,” wrote his son, a Radnor-Winston resident, in a biographical profile of his father. “He was one of the founders of the Eastside Democratic Organization (EDO) and part of their first slate of progressive candidates for the state legislature. Several of their candidates won, although he himself was unsuccessful.”
Recalled Ms. Clarke: “That was in 1970 and was the Joseph Clarke-Bob Dalton ticket for the General Assembly. It was an integrated ticket and Bill ran the campaign. The predominantly black EDO and the predominately white New Democratic Club came together, and at first people said it wouldn’t work. But 15 out of 18 of their candidates were elected to office and it caught the attention of the national press, including New Republic magazine.”
She said Mr. Henry coordinated the campaign, laid down the rules, created literature featuring pictures of those running, and helped jam rowhouse living rooms where candidates gathered to meet voters.
“Everyone knew who was on the ticket and when they won they established a new order of business. He was a calming steady influence,” Ms. Clarke said. “That’s Bill’s legacy and, you can still see it today. It still lives."
“He was such a wealth of knowledge and he contributed much to East Baltimore,” Mr. McCray said. “He was one of the generals.”
During this time, Mr. Henry founded the Baltimore Tutorial Project, which recruited college students from Hopkins, then-Loyola College, then-College of Notre Dame, Goucher College and other private institutions to serve as tutors and mentors to young people in East Baltimore, some of whom went on to politics, such as current Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Mr. Stokes.
Today, the tutorial program that Mr. Henry founded continues as the Johns Hopkins Tutorial Program.
“I’ve known him since I was in middle school when he tutored me in East Baltimore,” said Mr. Stokes, a Charles Village resident. “I got to know him better as an adult when he was active in political clubs. He was the guy who put the nuts and bolts of a campaign together.”
Mr. Henry became an important influence in Mr. Stokes’ political life.
“He was my political mentor,” he said. “He was very smart, very outgoing and had a good sense of humor. He was not a jokester. He could be very serious and stern if we were not in the right place when it came to explaining ourselves to the people.”
When he wasn’t in city government, Mr. Henry worked in the private sector, including in business development at the old First National Bank and establishing his own environmental remediation business.
In the early 1980s, he returned to public service as an inspector and investigator for the Baltimore City Board of Liquor Commissioners, and ended his career in 2004 as a housing and employment counselor for the nonprofit Project PLASE.
During his 1970 race for the state legislator “he learned that while he did not enjoy being a candidate, he loved political campaigns,” his son wrote. “For over 30 years, he managed or directed field operations for numerous campaigns for public office.”
Some of them included one for former state Sens. Nathan C. Irby Jr. and Robert L. Dalton, and former Baltimore City Council members Mr. Stokes, Edwin Johnson, former Circuit Court Judge William “Billy” Murphy Jr. and former City Council presidents Ms. Clarke and Lawrence Bell.
While remaining a lifelong Democrat, Mr. Henry could reach out and support a candidate from another party whom he believed in. When Republican U.S. Sen. Charles C. “Mac” Mathias ran for reelection, Mr. Henry directed his Baltimore campaign, and he did for Robert A. Pascal, the former Anne Arundel County executive who ran in 1982 as a Republican for governor.
He also worked on his son’s campaigns and for 12 years volunteered in his district office. In 2010, the elder Mr. Henry was elected to represent Northeast Baltimore on the city’s Democratic State Central Committee, but did not seek another term.
Mr. Henry was a founder of the East End Forum, a political organization that spun off from the EDO and for many years, his son said, “rivaled the EDO.” His impact was such that an Afro-American newspaper article in the 1970s dubbed him the “Darth Vader of East Baltimore politics.”
For years, he lived in a Harford Road home across from Clifton Park until 14 years ago when he moved to Stadium Place Apartments in Ednor Gardens.
His son said Mr. Henry enjoyed walking 33rd Street to St. Paul Street, where he paused to buy ice cream at the Cold Stone Creamery, relax at an outdoor table and “hold court,” his son said. “He couldn’t sit there for 15 minutes without someone coming by that he knew.”
Mr. Henry said his father’s hobby was “people.”
He was a lifelong member of the African American Episcopal Church and was a charter member of Adams Chapel AME Church in Northwest Baltimore, where he had been a trustee, organist, steward, a conference delegate and lay chaplain.
Plans for a memorial service are incomplete due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to his son, he is survived by a daughter, Lenora Henry of Hamilton; two brothers, J. Wayman Henry Jr. of Baltimore and Clifton W. Henry of Williamsburg, Virginia; a sister, Rosemary Joann Henry of Baltimore; and two grandchildren. His marriage to the former Barbara Belmont ended in divorce.