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Freddye Henderson


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ATLANTA: Freddye Henderson, 89, travel agency pioneer


Freddye Henderson had an eye for a business opportunity as sharp as her eye for fashion.

It didn't take her but one trip to Europe in 1954 to figure out that there was a market to introduce African-American travelers to first-class treatment overseas.

In other words, in Europe they could ride in the front of the bus, Mrs. Henderson said in a 1987 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article.

By 1955, she had opened Henderson Travel Service, the first black-owned travel agency in the Southeast and the nation's first fully accredited black-owned travel agency, designated by Black Enterprise magazine one of the nation's top 100 black-owned businesses.

"At first, people in Atlanta thought she was crazy," said her friend Tom Houck of Atlanta. "Here, they could not eat in a restaurant or stay in a hotel. Freddye was very strong in her efforts to have blacks get out and see more of the world."

Mrs. Henderson visited more than 100 countries, danced with dignitaries and met with monarchs. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. asked her not only to plan his trip to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize but to travel with him to Norway for the ceremony.

"She knew she was more than lucky but very blessed to be among Martin Luther King and world leaders," said Congressman John Lewis of Atlanta.

The funeral for Freddye Scarborough Henderson, 89, of Atlanta is 11 a.m. Wednesday at Ebenezer Baptist Church. She died of complications from a neurological disease Friday at Hospice Atlanta. Murray Bros. Cascade Chapel is in charge of arrangements.

Mrs. Henderson's first trip to Europe was at the invitation of the wife of French ambassador Henri Bonet to view the international press show of designer Christian Dior. Mrs. Henderson had earned a master's degree in fashion merchandising from New York University and was president of the National Association of Fashion and Accessory Designers.

She expanded the trip to visit Switzerland and Italy, where she was greeted warmly. "I was treated first-class, like royalty," she said. "Blacks couldn't travel in this country with any ease. In Europe, blacks could ride in the front of the bus."

She wanted others to share that experience and opened the travel agency with her husband, the late Jacob Henderson.

First, though, she had to overcome the reluctance of airlines to sponsor a black-owned travel agency. Then, she had to convince potential customers that she knew what she was doing. Before long, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Rev. King and his father were making travel arrangements through Mrs. Henderson, and her reputation was secured.

"If you wanted to travel, especially to Africa and the Caribbean, Freddye Henderson's travel agency was the way to go," Rep. Lewis said.

One of her smartest discoveries was that every association of white professionals had a black counterpart, and she started booking trips for them. Her agency, now based in Washington, was one of the first to promote travel to West Africa. Among her many honors is the Order of the Mono by the West African Republic of Togo.

"She was an exceptional person in the travel industry," Mr. Houck said. "She gave her clients personal attention."

She never lost her fashion flair. "She was an exquisite dresser," he said. "She was impeccable. She could be outside gardening, which she liked to do, and even the dirt on her hands looked good on her."

"She had style," Rep. Lewis said. "I don't know what the women would say, but the men would say she was well dressed and looked good."

Mrs. Henderson was knowledgeable and a good listener, he said. "But, also, she could talk and she could laugh. She was so informed."

"She was truly a great Atlanta legend," Mr. Houck said, "a barrier-breaker, a bridge-builder."

Survivors include three daughters, Carole Tyson and Gaynelle Henderson-Bailey, both of Washington, and Shirley Coleman of Atlanta; a son, Jacob R. Henderson Jr. of Atlanta; a sister, Johnnie Swanigan of Los Angeles; seven grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

© 2007 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Jan. 22, 2007
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