Alabama and East Texas Compared
KERIN’S NOTE: The “current” information in this section is from about 1989 and may be outdated.
The Perry County, Alabama, the Hendersons left behind them in many ways resembles the East Texas land to which they came. In Perry County, there were ample forests—mostly pine with a few oaks and other hardwoods and a great many sweet gum—where they could hunt wild game. The Cahaba River, not far from their Heiberger property, very much resembles the Sabine River of East Texas, which provided ample catfish for their tables.
The terrain is also similar, though it must have been infinitely more difficult to wreak a livelihood from the red clay of Perry County than it was in the sandy loam of East Texas. Cotton, the king of Alabama agriculture at that time, also was planted in abundance in northeast Texas, but the Hendersons soon learned to diversify and earned much of their income, not in cotton and corn, but in melons, strawberries, blackberries and sugar cane.
The education systems were not ideal in either location. In Perry County there was Judson College, founded in 1838 as an institution of higher learning for young women. It has been under the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention since shortly after its founding and remains very small, with a 1989 enrollment of less than 400. When the Hendersons left Perry County, there was also Marion Female Seminary, founded in 1836 and disbanded in 1915. Lincoln Normal School, started only a decade before the Hendersons left Alabama, was established by Congregational missionaries for black students. It remained in operation from 1869 until 1969 and has among its distinguished graduates Coretta Scott King and Idella Childs, mother-in-law of Andrew Young, who now chairs Marion’s Library board (1989).
It would be some years before Smith County, Texas, could boast of credible institutions of higher learning, but today it has far outstripped its Alabama forebears. The University of Texas at Tyler has more than 3,000 students and a faculty of more than 200. Tyler Junior College, with more than 7,000 students and a faculty of 300, is one of the outstanding community-based colleges in the state.
Economically, the Hendersons doubtless improved themselves, though there have been many lean years. Alabama is one of the country’s poorer states and Perry County is one of the three poorest in the state. Agriculture formed its economic base when the Hendersons left there just as agriculture was the economic base for the state of Texas. Today soy beans rather than cotton are the prevalent agricultural crop in Perry County. Dairy farming runs a close second. The county has been rich in timberland. Much of the good timber has now been cut and that which remains is owned for the most part by large out-of-state corporations.