Anna Lois Henderson, 114, oldest Philadelphian

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Henderson is greeted by Mayor Nutter at the 2013 luncheon.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Henderson is greeted by Mayor Nutter at the 2013 luncheon.
Posted: July 09, 2014

IN 1900, William McKinley was president.

American soldiers were battling rebels in the Philippines.

Orville and Wilbur Wright were tinkering with a contraption that was supposed to fly through the air, and Henry Ford was tinkering with the Model T, to be introduced in eight years and revolutionize American travel.

And Anna Lois Berrian was born.

Rural Georgia, her birthplace, was farm country, cotton and tobacco, and a place where black people knew their place, or paid dearly for not knowing it.

In fact, it was the lynching of a young black man that was the main impetus for Anna's move to Philadelphia at age 22.

Anna, who became Anna Henderson after marrying railroad worker Rembert Louis Henderson in 1925, became a much-honored and highly revered resident of West Philadelphia.

She died July 1 at age 114, the oldest person in Philadelphia and the sixth oldest person on the planet.

There Anna was last month, stylishly garbed in a white dress with a purple scarf and veil, happily absorbing the applause and attention as the guest of honor at a luncheon hosted by Mayor Nutter at the Sheet Metal Workers Union Hall at Penn's Landing.

She was the oldest of the more than 100 centenarians honored that day by the mayor, who holds these luncheons annually.

Since she turned 90, Anna's life has been one adventure after another. She took her first airplane ride at 90, and two more at 101 and 102; she cruised to the Bahamas at 105; and last month, she traveled to Boston to see a great-granddaughter receive a medical degree from Tufts University.

A special event at age 108 was a return to her hometown of Riddleville, Ga., where she was given the key to the city and taken on a tour of City Hall by the mayor.

"She remembered that as a child, blacks couldn't even go inside," said her great niece Maxine Carson.

"She lived a beautiful life," Maxine said. "Family and friends were always around her. Anna was loved by many people for her wisdom, pleasant smile and her never-failing encouragement of 'Keep your hand in God's hand.' "

It was her faith that kept her living so long, she believed.

"She would say, 'Be loving and forgiving to everybody,' " Maxine said. " 'Be a blessing to others and blessings will be showered upon you.' "

She daily recited the 23rd Psalm: "The Lord is my shepherd . . ."

She was devoted to her church, Holy Temple Church of God in Christ, which she joined shortly after arriving in Philadelphia.

After her arrival, Anna met and married Rembert Henderson. They had nine children.

Although it was a happy marriage, Anna and Rembert disagreed on one important issue. She was an avid baseball fan - but not of the Phillies, his team. Because of her Georgia upbringing, Anna rooted for the Atlanta Braves.

Anna was a popular figure in her Powelton neighborhood, where she could be found sweeping her porch, while keeping a sharp eye on the children playing in the street to keep them from harm.

The changes she saw over the past 114 years are staggering. From the horse and buggy to jet planes, computers, the Internet, fast cars and, of course, the highlight of her long life, the election of a black man as president of the United States.

Her husband died in 1962. She is survived by two daughters, Ruby Davis and Fannie Fisher; four sons, Arlington, Harold, Grady and Lewis Henderson; 25 grandchildren; 13 great-grandchildren; and 11 great-great-grandchildren. She was predeceased by two daughters, Elizabeth Travers and Jennie Anderson; and a son, Norman Henderson.

Services: 6 p.m. Sunday at Holy Temple Church of God in Christ, 60th and Callowhill streets. A white, horse-drawn carriage will take her casket from the Mays Funeral Home, 42nd Street and Haverford Avenue, to the church at 2:30 p.m. Burial will be Monday at Rolling Green Memorial Park, West Chester.

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