At a ceremony presided over by its mayor on Saturday, February 21, the city of Brooklyn, Illinois, officially renamed the 100 block of North Seventh Street Joe "Prince" Henry Boulevard.
Prince Joe Henry
Henry, a native of Brooklyn, was an infielder and entertainer nonpareil during the latter years of baseball's Negro Leagues, in the 1950s, befitting his nickname, Prince Joe. His career cut short by injuries, Henry worked as a union chief steward in Michigan before retiring to Brooklyn, where he died on January 2 at the age of 78. From 2005 until 2007, Prince Joe wrote a weekly opinion column in Riverfront Times, "Ask a Negro Leaguer."
The street naming was preceded by a horn-honking motorcade through the streets of the historic eight-square-block town, which was settled in the early 19th century and has since been recognized as the nation's first black municipality. As part of the festivities, a stretch of Third Street was renamed Robert "Smoot" Avenue, after Smoot, a highly decorated Buffalo Soldier and a veteran of the Second World War.
The morning dawned cold and cloudy. But by noon the sun was shining, and as a wind whipped in from the west, Brooklyn Mayor Nathaniel "Nat" O'Bannon read a proclamation lauding Smoot for his service in the U.S. Army's famed 92nd Infantry Division. Then it was off to the intersection of Seventh and Madison streets, a fastball's throw away from Prince Joe Henry's home and just outside the Lovejoy School.
As participants gathered around the town's rumbling firetruck, O'Bannon eulogized the locquacious Prince Joe, saying, "He gave a new meaning to the expression 'razzle and dazzle.' Smooth as silk and as crisp as a winter breeze were the words of this great man.... [H]is golden words...could cut as quickly and as sharp as a paper cut. He could use those same golden words to motivate you, to charge you and have you ready for the battle. You see, his words became his weapons. He was a warrior with words."
The outdoor events dispensed with, the hundred-plus celebrants adjourned to the welcomingly warm school gym, where the village trustees made the street-name changes official by acclamation and presented Smoot and his family with a replica of his street sign. Accepting for Henry were his widow, Lu, and their grandson, Sean Muhammad, whom the couple had raised after the death of his father.
Sean Muhammad collected his grandfather's writings in book form, as Princoirs. You can also read RFT's coverage of Prince Joe's joustings with Major League Baseball in "Prince Joe's Lament," a 2004 story by former staff writer Mike Seely and its 2007 followup, Chad Garrison's "Prince Joe's Victory."
Support Local Journalism. Join the Riverfront Times Press Club
Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.
Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.