Hope carried Henry Jenkins from the cotton fields of Mississippi to Chicago’s West Englewood neighborhood. He arrived here in 1939, part of a historic migration of African-Americans who moved North in search of a better life.

Today, the 106-year-old enjoys sitting on the porch of his home, where he’s lived since 1971.

In many ways, his life has been a microcosm of African-American history. Moving North. Finding employment. Owning a home. And years later, witnessing the economic decline of his neighborhood.

In the South, Jenkins worked for 50 cents a day picking cotton and peanuts. Growing up in Mississippi during an era of legal segregation, he didn’t learn how to write his name until he was 25 and married.

“They started me working around 6 or 7, walking behind my mama picking cotton and putting it in her sack,” Jenkins said. “We couldn’t go to school. There wasn’t no school (for African-Americans).”

He experienced discrimination throughout his life in the South.

“When whites came down the streets,” he recalled, “you had to step out of the sidewalk.”

Despite the immense hardship he has faced as a black man who grew up under Jim Crow laws, his soft voice shows no hint of resentment. He tried to stay positive as he searched for ways to support his family.

“I said, ‘I’m going to get out from there because I want my kids to have a better life than I did,’” Jenkins said. “Thank the Lord he helped me survive.”

Jenkins saved enough money to purchase his home, and all nine of his children grew up in better circumstances than he did.

His wife died in 2012, and he has outlived most of his family. Still, he’s thankful for the life he’s lived and the neighbors who treat him like family.

“Sometimes I lay in that bed and pray,” Jenkins said. “‘Lord, why are you so good to me?’”

Also: Listen to Henry Jenkins’ thoughts about:

Martin Luther King Jr.
The right to vote
Voting for President Barack Obama

Caitlin is an intern at The Chicago Reporter.

Stacey is a photojournalism fellow at The Chicago Reporter.

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1 Comment

  1. Unfortunately Americans presently never live beyond doubt? Mr.Jenkins endure tulage of social unwillingness since resident early 70’s early stage. City Rights? Think twice nothing nice,Rainbow Push,Oprah and Rahm where Black aspiring middle class equivalent to Asians? Democratic oppression Mr.Jenkins hold (forum) social neglect respect elderly since attack “addicts” laugh mockery,Black Lives
    Matter? Chicago,Oakland,E.Palo Alto,L.A,Camben,N.J,Youngstown,OH,Hercules,Compton,CA,Memphis, Miami,Jersey City,Richmond and E.Cleveland. Majority Black only remembrance destroyed by not racism, exploitation of lack “governmental comprehension. Mr.Jenkins discuss long endurance have my respect, sir…Hip Hop” gangs plagued Chicago Kim Fox and Eddie Johnson examples of ineptness! Civil Rights, Mr.Jenkins endured asking what happen? Regression and disunity (London Breed) and Desley Brooks ideal politicians behind “apathy” any suggestions of social progress? Mr.Jenkins may you enjoy your life.

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