O. D. Henderson

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O. D. "O'Dee" Henderson (born April 16, 1915 in Clark County; died May 9, 1940 at Fairfield City Hall) was a "catcher" at Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad company's Fairfield Tin Mill, and the victim of homicide at the hands of the Fairfield Police Department.

Henderson was the son of Ben and Lillie (Wilson) Henderson of Clark County. The family later moved to 121 10th Street North in Birmingham. Early on the morning of May 9, 1940, O. D. Henderson, an African American, bumped into a fellow TCI employee, M. M. Hagood, a Caucasian, in front of the mill office in Westfield. Hagood found Fairfield police officer W. T. Glenn nearby and reported that Henderson had knocked him to the ground. Glenn held Henderson at bay while Hagood exacted retribution by beating him, then took him into custody and drove him to City Hall in his squad car.

After arriving at the station, Henderson was bound to a chair in the city jail where Hagood and another officer, Thomas Nelson, continued to beat him with their fists, a blackjack, a leather strop and a section of rubber hosepipe, ignoring pleas for mercy. Glenn, along with D. M. Flourney and Sergeant W. G. Cook, witnessed the beating. Another officer, Ed Taylor, heard it from an adjacent room. Officer Nelson then shot Henderson three times in the chest, killing him.

Henderson's body was taken to TCI Hospital, on the pretense that he had been killed in an auto accident. He was examined there by Bessemer Cutoff coroner T. J. Collum. The death by gunshot was ruled a homicide. Henderson's brother, Clark, claimed his body and the family buried him at the Oakdale Cemetery in Brighton.

Fairfield's police chief suspended Nelson for 30 days to conduct an investigation. With the support of Mayor Claude Gilley and at the vehement urging of Methodist minister Ted Hightower the Fairfield City Council deliberated whether to dismiss all three officers involved during a public meeting on May 23. Sergeant Cook testified that during his three years with the department, about 20 or 30 beatings of prisoners had taken place under similar circumstances. The motion to dismiss Cook and Glenn from the department failed on a 5-4 vote.

Nelson was charged with manslaughter in the first degree. Arthur Shores and attorneys working for the NAACP participated in the prosecution. Nelson pleaded not guilty by reason of self-defense and was found not guilty at trial.


External links

  • O. D. Henderson at the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ) of the Northeastern University School of Law.