Gus C. Henderson (1862-1917) has
been described as “ambitious and aspiring… proud of the prominence he has
attained.” The latter describes the manner in which Henderson led his
life and conducted
Henderson was born on November 16, 1862, in Columbia County, located near
Lake City, Florida. Henderson’s mother died when he was ten years old. As a
result, he was left to fend for himself. He worked for low wages in an
attempt to take care of himself. He was a curious young man and had a
great desire to learn. He studied by himself and remained in the Colombia
County area until he reached the age of twenty. He tried his hand at being a
farmer but decided to leave it behind to become a traveling salesman.
Although he had some success as a salesman, he soon received a letter asking
him to resign from the New York firm
he had been working for for five months. When asked for an explanation,
the firm stated that they had received threats from white salesmen for
hiring an African American. Gus felt disheartened by this news.
In 1886 he moved to the area that would later become Hannibal Square.
Henderson decided to initiate a general printing and publishing company. In
1887 he encouraged the African American residents of Hannibal Square to
support Loring Chase and Oliver Chapman, who advocated for the incorporation
of Winter Park and Hannibal Square as one city. His efforts made the latter
possible. Chapman and Chase showed gratitude towards their supporters by
selling lots, renting land and providing employment to the African American
community. This helped secure many votes. Henderson also encouraged his
community to vote for the first African American aldermen of Winter Park,
Walter B. Simpson and Frank R. Israel.
On May 31, 1889, Henderson released the first issue of The Winter Park
Advocate. This newspaper was one of two black-owned newspapers in
Florida and the only newspaper in Winter Park read by both white and black
residents. It remained in publication for approximately twelve years.
Henderson later moved to Orlando, where he published the Florida
Throughout his life, Gus Henderson advocated for voting rights and better
education for African Americans, until his death in 1917. He faced many
battles and obstacles, but his persistence allowed him to positively impact
the Winter Park community at a time when the country, especially the South,
was plagued by intense racial divisions.
Kerem K. Rivera
Barbara White, “Gus C. Henderson: Hard working and determined – He brought the news to Winter Park.” Winter Park Public Library.
“Portrait of Gus Henderson,” from
the Winter Park Advocate, courtesy of the Winter Park Public
Library, Winter Park, Florida.
"Picture of Winter Park Advocate,"
Photograph. Advocate file, From Archives and Special
Collections, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park,
“An African American Congregation in
the 1890s,” showing a man holding a copy of The Winter Park
Advocate, courtesy of the Orange County Regional History Center,