Henry Bernard Dotson, Jr.
Sunrise – June 7, 1932 Sunset – August 3, 2010
The Early Years
Henry Bernard Dotson, Jr. was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi on June 7, 1932, to Verlena and Henry Bernard Dotson, Sr. This union also produced his older sister, Verlena (1930) and younger brother Thomas (1933). He was raised in Vicksburg throughout his early childhood and youth. During that time he was hard working, industrious and consistently attended his local church.
During these formative years, Henry developed a life-long love for the game of golf. He started carrying bags at the local country club at a young age and then began playing the game himself. Towards the middle and end of his life he became an accomplished golfer. He was able to shoot the score of the course, which made him a “scratch” golfer, meaning he did not require a handicap to shoot par.
Henry graduated from high school in 1950 and then attended Southern Christian Institute from 1950-1952. On June 3, 1952 he enlisted in the US Army. During his tour of duty, he became a communications specialist and earned the rank of sergeant while serving in Korea. After his honorable discharge in 1955, he relocated to Los Angeles, California, which became his home for the rest of his life.
Henry joined Second Baptist Church of Los Angeles in 1955 and quickly became active with his new church home. Two other persons who joined Second Baptist on the same Sunday were then Attorney Albert D. Matthews and Eunice La Verne Winfrey. Henry and Eunice fell in love and were married the following year. That union produced three children, Ira Emile Dotson, Henry Bernard Dotson, III, and Patricia La Verne Dotson.
Henry’s career was diverse and productive. As a young man with a family, he worked at the Good Year plant located at Florence and Central. In the late fifties, early sixties, he worked as a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service for six years.
In 1961, Henry entered the Sheriff’s Academy and graduated in June, 1962 as a duly authorized Deputy Sheriff of Los Angeles County.
His law enforcement position was pivotal to Henry’s career, even though he was unaware of the key role it would play in his future. Henry elected to work the security detail at the 1964 Rose Bowl Game on overtime as an LA County Sheriff to provide for his family. During the game, a gentleman who admired him in his uniform, approached him and asked him would he like to work in the insurance industry. Henry replied, “Yes” and the gentleman kept his word. In 1964, Henry became the first black claims adjuster for the Allstate Insurance Company. Henry held this position through 1969.
Henry held this position through 1969. Again, another fortuitous encounter opened the door for his next career move. During an informal gathering, he met another black professional and they began to talk shop. Henry talked about the insurance industry and William (Bill) Epps, manager for the California State Employees Association discussed the opportunities available in the labor movement. A short time later, Bill offered Henry a position as an employee representative and Henry accepted. Henry served as an employee representative, district manager and employee arbiter until he retired in 1995.
Henry was always the type of person that led by example and he possessed a compassionate heart for the underdog. He was quick to lend a hand without any fanfare and he was a tenacious defender of the downtrodden. These two core principles were manifested in his life’s work fighting for civil rights. For many of us, we take the right to vote as an obligation, but it was not until 1964 that the Civil Rights Act, which included the right for blacks to vote, became the law of the land. This fight for equal recognition, opportunity and access motivated Henry during all of his adult life
In this regard Henry was elected as the secretary for the Southwest Los Angeles Branch of the NAACP. He served in this capacity faithfully from 1964 until 1966. It was in the 1970s that his leadership role in the NAACP was most productive.
From 1973 until 1978, Henry served as the president of the Los Angeles Branch of the NAACP. It was during these politically turbulent times that federally mandated busing and Affirmative Action were being challenged at every turn. Henry led a public battle with everyone who opposed the implementation of Affirmative Action and equal education through busing. This did not make him popular with many people, but Henry was not concerned with popularity. He was passionate about fairness and equality. Everyone that knew him could safely say, “I know what Henry stands for…I may not agree with him, but I do know what he stands for because he told me.”
During the 1980s Henry was elected to the Central Democratic Committee. He served faithfully on this committee, developing Democratic political strategies and mentoring young leaders that were the next generation of Democratic political leadership in the state of California.
In conjunction with his community service, Henry was active at his home church. Henry became involved with the Junior Church, Baptist Youth Fellowship, the Drama Guild, and taught special classes on the meaning of church membership. He was an active member of the Henderson Bible Class.
Henry was a charter member of both the Los Angeles Community Homes non-profit organization, and the Second Baptist Community Homes non-profit organization. He provided his management expertise to help steer the organizations while they were developing Griffith Gardens and Kilgore Manor.
He joined the Bell Choir during the last ten years of his life and served on the Trustee Board.
Henry was still active in his community despite his retirement. He took several carpentry courses at LA Trade Tech and then joined Habitat for Humanity. As a volunteer, he spent some of his retirement building homes for the less fortunate. He could be seen up on the roof of a home with his hammer laying shingles.
A few years later, he found another way to give back to his community. Henry became a golf coach for First Tee, a community organization which taught young black children how to play the game of golf. Henry enjoyed both of these relationships until the end.
Henry was always looking for ways to make a difference in his community. He could be seen walking around the neighborhood early in the morning picking up trash left by the curb. Many of the neighborhood families came to know Henry as a result of casual conversations he would strike up that grew into friendly acquaintances over the years. Henry had a major impact on the children in the neighborhood as a stable male role model. He mentored several, and for many, was the only male figure in their lives.
In retirement, Henry remained a devoted husband. He spent many years as the primary caregiver for Eunice during her prolonged illness until she went to be with the Lord July 3, 2009.
Prior to his stroke on May 19, 2010, Henry spent time with family. He attended family events and enjoyed receiving visits from family in his home of 47 years. Father’s Day and Thanksgiving were special holidays he was able to share with his immediate and extended family. He was able to attend the wedding of his granddaughter Stefany, and looked forward to attending the wedding of his first grandchild, LaShae.
Henry spent his final days in a nursing home doing what he had done all of his life – fighting to get better, striving to make a difference. On Tuesday evening, August 3, Henry received his call to come home. The battle was over, his reward to claim.
Henry was preceded in death by his beloved wife Eunice Winfrey Dotson, and sisters, Verlena Davenport and Catherine Jean Beard. He leaves to mourn his passing: sons Ira E. Dotson (Cris) and Henry B. Dotson, III (Vanessa); daughter Patricia La Verne Jones; grandchildren LaShae Wheeler (Eric), Harold Jones, Jr., Stefany Harbo (Josh), Henry B. Dotson IV, and Talia Dotson; great grandchildren Anthony, Hailee, Ahmani and Ethan; siblings Thomas Earl Dotson (Dorothy), Laura Weir, Luline Dotson, Alfred Dotson (Jetti), Anita Wilson (Aaron), and Fred Dotson (Karen); Brother-in-law Reginald Winfrey (Lauretta); Sisters-in-law Dorothea Polk and Zenobia McLaughlin; godson Kwame Cain; and goddaughter Kimberly Williams Brown. In addition to his immediate family, Henry will be greatly missed by numerous nieces, nephews, cousins, and close family friends. It is with love, honor and fondness that we celebrate his life on this day.