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 white fellow TCI employee, M. M. Hagood, 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 while Hagood exacted retribution by beating him, then took Henderson into custody and drove him to Fairfield 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. During the beating, Nelson shot Henderson three times, once in the abdomen and twice 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. A week later the Council did vote to dismiss Nelson and Glenn, and recommended that the Jefferson County Personnel Board should review Cook's involvement.

Nelson was initially charged with manslaughter in the first degree and Cook was charged with assault, and with conduct unbecoming an officer and detrimental to public service. A grand jury returned indictments of Nelson, Glenn and Cook for second-degree murder. Arthur Shores and attorneys working for the NAACP participated in Nelson's prosecution before Judge Gardner Goodwyn in June. Nelson pleaded not guilty by reason of self-defense, claiming that Henderson, who was still handcuffed, had tried to take hold of his blackjack during the beating. An "X-ray expert" who testified in court claimed that Henderson exhibited skull fractures that could have caused his death. The jury found Nelson not guilty after three hours of deliberation.


External links

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