BUFFALO, N.Y. — A pillar of Buffalo's African American community has passed away.
Bishop William Henderson is being remembered as an activist and faith leader in the Queen City. His work to preserve a historic landmark of the Underground Railroad will forever define his legacy.
"The thing I loved about him is his humility," said Bishop Anthony Bronner, senior pastor at Elim Christian Fellowship
It's a candid memory that Bishop Bronner reflects on after Bishop Henderson joined Bronner's church upon retirement.
One seat within the congregation is left empty after the passing of Bishop Henderson at the age of 85.
The two bishops formed a friendship that lasted more than 20 years.
"The thing that he really is going to leave behind is his ability to express his love. He was a tremendous communicator of the word. He was a passionate person in terms of his worship. He also will leave behind the love of our history," said Bronner.
#NOW Bishop William Henderson who became Pastor of the Michigan Street Baptist Church in 1974 has passed away. In a statement, his son Addison Henderson said, “Bishop was a tireless man of God and an inspiration to our family and everyone he touched.” @specnewsbuffalo pic.twitter.com/SJ9MNjKsIn— Fadia Mayté Patterson M.S. (@FadiaTVNews) January 12, 2021
That love is on display throughout Buffalo's African American Heritage Corridor. For 50 years, Bishop Henderson served as pastor of the Michigan Street Baptist Church. A historic landmark of the Underground Railroad. His son, Addison Henderson, says his father had a natural gift as a historian.
"I was enthralled by him. The highlight of my week would be to come here and hear his stories. He was the first storyteller in my life," said Addison.
His daughter Rachel Henderson says Bishop Henderson fought to keep the church standing and preserve the stories of many slaves who made their last stops in the church basement before crossing over to freedom in Canada.
"This is where people hid running from bounty hunters," said Rachel.
In 2001, the Buffalo Niagara Freedom Station Coalition, a non-profit organization was created to protect and promote the church with tours and educational experiences.
"He definitely fought against the wrecking ball. He said it was not going to be torn down because he knew it was the first cornerstone for a church that was built by blacks for blacks here in Buffalo. He was so aware of the history that he used his own hands to reconstruct the roof." Rachel said.
At Bishop Henderson's side was the mother of his three children and wife of 40 years, Diane.
"People know him as a Bishop absolutely. People know him as a historian, I say absolutely. People know him as a father to many, but he was a great husband and father to the children," Diane said.
Buffalo’s faith community is paying tribute to the late Bishop William Henderson. He spent the last 12 yrs at Elim Christian Fellowship. Bishop Bronner says Henderson was a father to the community. @specnewsbuffalo pic.twitter.com/hq6r7DY9T2— Fadia Mayté Patterson M.S. (@FadiaTVNews) January 13, 2021
She describes her husband as a great visionary. That vision touched many around the globe.
"I remember many years ago we had people from china and many parts of the world and they came to the church. I never met a historian like him. Great things can happen when we have wholesome conversations. He made them feel that they were part of this," said Diane.
The family says the best way to honor Bishop Henderson's legacy is to keep his vision alive for future generations.
"Continue to build a legacy and remember my husband, the greatest leader that I know, historian, who laid his life down in many ways, just so people can walk the path of freedom. Take that journey," Diane said.
A public memorial for the Bishop is planned for next week.
For information on the Bishop Henderson Legacy Fund, click here.