By Tia Lynn Ivey managing editor
Henry Veasley has accomplished much in his 79 years of life. Despite being born during the era of segregation and crippling racial inequality, Henry Veasley made a good life for himself and his family. Veasley became the first African-American in Morgan County to become a licensed electrician in 1974. Veasley also worked at the Madison Post office for 31 years, served in the military for two years, and was the first African-American volunteer firefighter in Madison. “I feel great about it. I have been able to help a lot of people throughout the years,” said Veasley, who is also a lifelong member of Calvary Baptist Church in Madison.
Veasley came from a large family, growing up with 11 siblings. Veasley remembers the poor treatment many African-Americans experienced, but says for the most part, because his family was so well known throughout the county for their infamous community barbeques they hosted, that he and his family were treated relatively well. “I had some tough experiences here in Morgan County, but not as bad as others had,” said Veasley. Veasley recalled being a young boy walking to school with a childhood friend, and they would sneak over to the “whites only” water fountain to drink out of it. “We wanted to see if the water was any different from ours,” laughed Veasley. Veasley graduated from Pearl Street High School, where he met his wife, Katherine Veasley. The couple met at school and often played basketball together in town. Katherine remembers having to walk almost 10 miles to school, while white children rode by in school buses.
“Things weren’t easy for us, but we made it through,” said Katherine, who was pleased to see how far the school system in Morgan County has come since the days of segregation. Henry and Katherine Veasley have been married for almost 60 years now and have three children together: Parris Veasley, Glenn Veasley, and Erica Veasley. Erica Veasley is now a member of the Morgan County Board of Education. “We did alright,” said Henry, who is proud of his own accomplishments and the accomplishments of his children. But Henry’s accomplishments did not come easily. Although he became a license delectrician and employed with the Jackson Electric Company in Monroe, he experienced discrimination and racial hostility because of it. “People used to be real bad to you,” remembers Veasey. “Most of the people I worked with, they didn’t really want me to become an electrician. They thought I was taking their jobs. But I hung in there.”
“There has been a lot of progress here though,” said Henry Veasley. “A lot of different things have caused Madison to grow since then.” Once Henry became an electrician, he used his talents to help out his community whenever he could. Henry wired the Morgan County African American museum for free of charge and helped with the wiring at Calvary Baptist Church, too. “I did what I could for them. I like to help people however I can.” Henry hopes his life can be an example to the youth today to never give up on a bright future. “My only advice for them today is to get a good education and a good job, and to work hard to it,” said Veasley. That advice resonated strongly with Henry’s daughter Erica, who is passionate about young people getting a good education.
“Our people struggled…they had to struggle. And all of our children, whether they are black, white, yellow, red, or blue, children of every culture, they need to now that it’s ok to struggle. Sometimes it takes a struggle to get what you want out of life,” said Erica. Veasley praised both her parents for how they raised her, citing that her parents instilled in her a deep faith in Jesus Christ and strong work ethic. “When my parents were growing up, I don’t think they were raised with the idea that you could grow up to be whatever you wanted. There was definitely a ceiling for them,” said Erica, who noted many African-Americans were forced to abide by the limits imposed upon them during the days of Jim Crowe laws. “But I am so thankful they raised me to go after a good education and to work hard to make a good life for myself and others.” Henry, who is now retired, lives a quiet life with his wife and family. “I have lived here all my life, and I have a good life,” said Henry Veasley.