History of the James A. Henry YMCA
The YMCA was organized in London, England in 1844 when George Williams a young store clerk of strong faith and spirituality persuaded twelve other young men to get together regularly for Bible study and prayer. A few years later, retired Boston sea captain Thomas Valentine Sullivan, working as a marine missionary Y in America at the Old South Church in Boston, Massachusetts on December 29, 1851. In 1853, the first YMCA for blacks was founded in Washington D.C. by Anthony Bowen, a freed slave. The YMCA of Chattanooga was organized in 1874 and its first meeting place was a room at 735 E. Market Street.
The James A. Henry Y began as the 9th Street YMCA of Chattanooga and was dedicated on Tuesday, October 8, 1902 and the featured speaker was Booker T. Washington. In 1929 the same year in which the Stock Market crashed, the YMCA rented space at 302 E. 9th Street (at the corner of Ninth and Houston Street) which included a gym, meeting room, reading rooms, locker and shower facilities. By the closure of the old 9th Street facility in 1953 the 9th Street Y had served over 100,000 men, boys, soldiers and visitors during its existence and more than 4000 men held active membership.
In 1953 the 9th Street Y was renamed the James A. Henry Y and was relocated to its then new Park Avenue facility. The James A. Henry Y was named in honor of Mr. James A. Henry who served in the Chattanooga School system for 29 years. Mr. Henry was recognized throughout the South as one of the foremost African American educators. His advice in race relations and education was widely sought by people of all races who recognized him as one familiar with the needs of the people.
On December 30, 1960 Dr. King Martin Luther King, Jr., visited Chattanooga to speak; the Henry Y figured prominently in his visit. Before Dr. King’s speech at the Memorial Auditorium he was the featured guest at a Dinner held in his honor in the Gym of the Henry YMCA. After Dr. King’s speech, a Question and Answer Session was also held at the Henry YMCA.
In 1985 the Henry Branch at 915 Park Avenue was renovated and in 1999 the J. A. Henry Y relocated to the Eastgate Towne Center. In December of 2010 the YMCA Board of Directors voted to vacate the Eastgate location, redirect the Henry Y’s efforts into a Community (Development) Branch and relocate the Henry Y’s Administrative Offices to the Downtown Y. The Henry Y now serves as a Community YMCA, helping youth and young adults to build healthy spirit, mind and body in nine counties.