Henry Bradley will never die
We got off the school buses and looked at all the white people lined up in front of the little country school buildings in Madison Al . It was a relief to see Mr. Bradley’s black smiling face waiting on the buses to stop rolling so he could come out to the bus and escort us little black children into the building safely. Just knowing he was there was peace for us little black kids walking into a sea of white kids during integration years.
Mr. Bradley was like a friend to us. I mean, like a real part of us. He knew how to kneel down on one knee and get on our level. He would use child words, and give the illusion that he was one of us. He would actually listen to us. We could let go our fears and talk to him in a way like no other teacher in the school because not only was he the asst Principal, and a black man, he was our friend. He learned us by our first name and would talk to us like peers. He knew how important it was to feel we had a friend. He would take sides with us always. But sometimes he had to discipline us.
He taught us about music. I don’t remember him being the band director but I remember him always talking to us about songs. We were surprised he even knew our songs. Sometimes he might even be humming a tune or singing as he went down the hallways. He was a soul man. It was like he never grew up, he just waited on us to grow up so we could relate more to him. He waited on us to catch up to his mentality. He just patiently waited on all of us.
When I learned that he played bass guitar I was so blown away by it. I knew that he would be teaching every time he played because it had become his nature to teach. So I just came out and asked him to help out and play in my band. He knew it would make me see my music and myself differently to have my High School principal play with me. He had retired from the school system and wanted to play for the love of it. My band at that time was called THE MEDULLA BLUES BAND . My drummer was George Martin. George was working as the installation Mgr at the KNOLOGY cable co where I worked. He was respected and had creditability and along with Henry we had a solid band that folks looked forward to seeing. But we noticed sometimes Henry didn’t feel like playing and sometimes he wanted to play sitting down. But he would play anytime he felt like it.
He started these weekly jam sessions that turned into lessons for us. He always encouraged me to Lean on it! This was his way of saying be expressive with the lead lines. He had a massive collection of cassette tapes and spent hours sitting in his room playing the Blues bass line to tons of music. Just about any blues or soul song, Mr. Bradley knew the lines to it. I even introduced him to a few of my friends and he started to teach them bass too.
Mr Bradley was a remarkable man to me and to many who met him, He was our friend, our principal. our father, a pioneer, a mentor, a teacher, and our brother, and our example. Men like Mr. Bradliy can never die because a part of him lives in each of us and we have the responsibility to pass it on to the young black men that come behind us .