Henry Preston Whitehead Collection consists of objects owned by Henry P. Whitehead, a Washington, D.C. based historian who worked to preserve African American cultural heritage. The collection includes political and promotional buttons related to Sharon Pratt Dixon’s, also known as Sharon Pratt Kelly, mayoral campaign; City Council member Linda Washington Cropp; Jesse Jackson; League of Washington Theatres; the WTU; and the Joffrey Ballet School, located in New York City. A cardboard hand fan promoting Lincoln Theatre from 1991, a jukebox, a woven basket made from wood reeds, and a suitcase which contained LPs are also a part of the collection.
A related archival collection – Henry P. Whitehead Collection 1922-1997 – which measures 81.48 linear feet and dates from circa 1922 to 1997, is available in the Archives at the Anacostia Community Museum. The collection is comprised of black theatrical memorabilia, materials related to civil rights activities in the District of Columbia, and the African American experience in general. Playbills, sheet music, tickets, newspapers, magazines, books, photographs, clippings, flyers, brochures, pamphlets, a record collection, and Whitehead’s research files are included. Copies of Whitehead’s book, Remembering U Street, are also present. Contact the Archivist for more information.
Born in 1917, Henry Preston Whitehead, a native of Columbus, Ohio, graduated from Ohio State University, where he also attended law school. He served in the Army in the South Pacific during World War II. In 1949, Whitehead moved to Washington, D.C. and worked for the Post Office before becoming an investigator for the city welfare department. He led several equal employment initiatives during the 1960s and 1970s, and was last employed as associate director of the District’s Office of Human Rights. After thirty-seven years of service to the government, Whitehead retired in 1980.
As a historian, Whitehead worked to promote and preserve the District’s rich African American cultural heritage and led efforts to restore the U Street Corridor in Northwest Washington, D.C. He was chairman and president of the Howard Theatre Foundation, Inc., which he helped establish, and led the effort to include the Howard Theatre on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. He was also the founder and board member of the Lincoln Theatre Foundation, and an active member of the U Street Festival Foundation. In collaboration with the remembering U Street Festival 1994, Whitehead produced the book, Remembering U Street.
Whitehead achieved recognition as an authority on and collector of black theatrical memorabilia. In addition to advising the Smithsonian Institution and the Kennedy Center, he contributed materials to their exhibitions and collections. Whitehead also served as an advisor for several historical documentaries broadcast on public television and the radio, including PBS’s “Duke Ellington’s Washington.”
Whitehead died on January 8, 2002; he had cancer.
Michael Allen Watkins, the son of Henry Preston Whitehead, donated the Henry Preston Whitehead Collection to the Anacostia Community Museum.
Battiata, Mary. "Landscape: U Street." The Washington Post, Feburary 1, 1998.
Levy, Claudia. "U Street Historian Henry P. Whitehead Dies at 84." The Washington Post, January 10, 2010.
Henry P. Whitehead collection, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Michael A. Watkins.
African American historians
African American neighborhoods
Permanent Collection, Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum