Nelson Henry Jr., the Black World War II veteran who battled racism in the Army and worked for almost 75 years to clear his name, will receive an honorary doctorate posthumously from Lincoln University.
Lincoln will honor Henry with a doctor of humane letters degree at the university’s 161th commencement, the school announced this week. A date has not been set for the ceremony, which was postponed from May because of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Nelson Henry Jr., World War II vet who fought racism in Army, dies at 96
- A Philly WWII veteran just got an honorable discharge from the Army, 75 years after being kicked out because he was black
- World War II veteran calls it 'a miracle’: Honorable discharge from Army to correct an ‘injustice,’ nearly 75 years later
Henry, 96, of Philadelphia, died May 9 from coronavirus complications. His son, Dean, learned about the honorary degree the day after his father died.
“He was supposed to graduate with the Class of 1944,” Dean Henry said Thursday. “Now he’s getting a degree. He would have been honored.”
Henry, a pre-dental major, dropped out of Lincoln in 1943 to enlist in the Army and was placed in a training program for junior officers. The Army promised to send him to Howard University to become a dentist.
At Lincoln, a historically Black college in Chester County, Henry was a member of the football team and Omega Psi Phi fraternity, and was junior class vice president.
After several minor infractions in the Army that his lawyers contend were unsubstantiated, Henry reluctantly accepted a “blue discharge” to avoid a court-martial. Neither honorable nor dishonorable, it denied him access to military benefits such as a funeral honor guard. He was discharged on Oct. 17, 1945, and soon after began filing appeals to overturn the decision.
Henry was among more than 48,000 soldiers given blue discharges between 1941 and 1945, a disproportionate number of which went to Black, gay, or lesbian service members.
After the military, Henry went to school at night at Temple University and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1969. He was employed as a cab driver and manager of a Pennsylvania State Employment Office in West Philadelphia.
In June 2019, an Army review board unanimously agreed to change his discharge to honorable. It found that an injustice had occurred. Henry called the decision a miracle.
Also to receive honorary doctorates from Lincoln are Leonard Bethel, a 1961 alumnus and retired Africana studies professor at Rutgers University, and Emery Wimbish, a former dean of Lincoln’s Langston Hughes Memorial Library.