“I would like to think I was able to rise above poverty, illiteracy, racism and bigotry, to teach how to bridge a diverse population in Oklahoma. I always wanted to make a positive change.”
In 1967, Dr. George Henderson became the University of Oklahoma’s third full-time African American faculty member at the Norman campus. In 1969, he became the first African American in Oklahoma universities to be a distinguished professor when he was appointed the Sylvan N. Goldman Professor of Human Relations, Education and Sociology. Later, he was appointed to three other distinguished professorships: David Ross Boyd Professor, Regents’ Professor, and Kerr-McGee Presidential Professor. After he became the Goldman Professor, he founded the Human Relations Department, which he chaired for 20 years. From 1996 to 2000, he was dean of the College of Liberal Studies. Thus, he was the first African American at the University of Oklahoma to create a degree-granting department; and the first African American dean of a degree-granting college on the Norman campus. Although he retired from the University in 2006, he still teaches on a part-time basis.
A civil rights pioneer in higher education in Oklahoma, George Henderson has achieved many other notable accomplishments. His awards and honors include being the recipient of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence Medal for the Outstanding College and University Professor in 2000; State of Oklahoma Black Heritage Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003; induction into the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame in 2003 and also induction into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 2003. The Henderson Scholars Program and the Henderson-Tolson Cultural Center on the Norman campus bear his name. The University of Oklahoma awarded him an honorary doctorate (Doctor of Humane Letters) at the May 2011 Commencement. In 2015, Oklahoma Today Magazine named Dr. Henderson one of the forty-five most influential African American Oklahomans.
A race relations and civil rights scholar, George Henderson has taught university courses and spoken at conferences and workshops throughout the United States and internationally. In addition, he has written 34 books and 50 articles. In 2011, the Oklahoma Historical Society selected Race and the University as the Outstanding Book on Oklahoma History published in 2010. Also in 2011, Dr. Henderson and his wife Barbara were recipients of the Xenia Institute’s Sam Mathews Social Justice Award. They were the first African American property owners in Norman. Dr. Henderson’s master’s degree in sociology and Ph.D. in educational sociology are from Wayne State University in Detroit.
In 1969, Dr. Henderson was appointed Sylvan N. Goldman Professor of Human Relations at the University of Oklahoma, becoming the first African American in the state to hold an endowed professorship. In 2001, when he was appointed a Kerr-McGee Presidential Professor in recognition for excellence in teaching, research and service, he was awarded his fourth distinguished professorship. He retired in 2006, after nearly four decades at OU.
Henderson came to the University of Oklahoma in 1967 as associate professor of Sociology and Education.