The Rev. Dr. Henry Steele is a testament to a life well-lived and shaped by overcoming the challenges of segregation. Over the course of his daughter’s (Dr. Angela L. Steele) lifetime, Henry believes Tallahassee has changed in positive ways. His involvement in promoting civil rights through peace and non-violent protest has helped countless others achieve the freedom and love everyone deserves.
Henry grew up in one of America’s most volatile periods, in the midst of the civil rights movement. Because his father was prominent pastor and celebrated civil rights activist C.K. Steele, from the time of Henry’s birth, the family home was attacked multiple times and discrimination was manifested on every street corner. Rather than succumbing to fear and anger, Henry’s father offered wise counsel for his son to stand up for what is right.
“We must be non-violent and loving in all of our efforts,” Henry says he learned. “My father preached it and I lived by it.”
Henry followed in his father’s footsteps from an early age and carried this advice throughout his life, overcoming his fear and anger through peaceful protest. At age 16, he began his work as a civil rights advocate, participating in the first full-scale lunch counter sit-in in Tallahassee with college students. During this non-violent protest for social change, Henry and his older brother, Charles, were arrested; Henry chose “jail rather than bail” in order to draw attention to and elevate the issue in court.
Henry’s life of activism was inspired by his personal experience and the example set by many strong leaders, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who stayed at the Steele home one evening when Henry was young.
Henry would again follow his father’s example by pursuing a career in the ministry, first earning a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Religion from Morehouse College, and later attending Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School. Henry served as a senior pastor for four churches in Alabama, Georgia and Florida and as Protestant Chaplain for the VA Hospital in Tuskegee, AL. In his sixties, Henry worked for the American Baptist Convention as an assistant to Civil Rights Activist and Minister Ralph Abernathy.
Henry has dedicated his life to spiritually helping others, and later obtained a certified nursing certificate to help others overcome physical challenges in more recent years. Daily, Henry is motivated to share his compassionate spirit with others as a Health Program Assistant with the Tallahassee Senior Center while he continues to accept preaching assignments and stand for the equality of every citizen.