Prince Joe Henry, 1930-2009: Funeral Service, "Prince Joe Henry Day" Declared in Brooklyn, Illinois

Former Negro League infielder and Riverfront Times columnist Prince Joe Henry was laid to rest Thursday, January 8, in a powder-blue casket at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, with full military honors.

Prior to the burial, a crowd of several hundred gathered at the Civic Center in Brooklyn, Illinois, to treat the ex-ballplayer and local legend to a celebratory "homegoing."

Village trustee Pamela Calvert declared January 8 "Prince Joe Henry Day," and village clerk Wendell Marshall announced that the city would rename the 100 block of North Seventh Street "Prince Joe Henry Boulevard" at a ceremony scheduled for Saturday, February 21.

Among other highlights of the celebration was a brief but sweet eulogy delivered by Joe's longtime friend F.G. "Quick Draw" McGraw, who introduced himself as "Joe's bat boy" and told a story about a misadventure six decades ago, when he and Joe borrowed the car of a local doctor and set out for a baseball tryout in Mississippi, despite the fact that neither he nor Joe possessed a driver's license. Hours into their journey, Joe suddenly realized that he'd neglected to bring along a bat. As they were headed home, the two travelers were pulled over by a police officer who wasn't satisfied with their explanation of their predicament. They ended up cooling their heels in the local jail until the car's owner could arrive to spring them.

Most of those who spoke paid tribute to Joe's generosity and his impact upon so many lives as a role model. In particular, nearly all noted that after the death of the boy's father, Joe and his wife Lula had raised their grandson Sean Muhammad. Another common topic was Joe's sense of humor, loquacious tongue and (as it were) love of conversation.

In light of the fact that the event was being held not in a church but in a city-run venue, many made good-humored mention of Joe's distaste for organized religion. On that count the most piquant observation was conveyed by one of Joe's younger brothers, LeRoy "Doc" Henry, who is himself a pastor. "He didn't come to the church I pastored in 25 years," the Reverend Henry said of his older brother. "He didn't even come when I eulogized two of his children. He waited outside in his car, and then asked people what was said."

Below is clip from the ceremony at Jefferson Barracks:

-Tom Finkel
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