Wiley Henry Photo by Morgan Mukarram

By Staff Reports

MEMPHIS, TN – Each year The Tennessee Tribune selects its “Man of the Year,” a person who has made significant contributions in society or in various fields of endeavor. That person is Wiley Henry, a Memphis journalist, writer, artist and photographer.

Henry is deserving of the honor as an award-winning journalist and a professional artist whose awe-inspiring artwork hangs in public and private collections locally and nationally. 

Add to that Henry’s work as a professional photographer, his awards and citations for community service, and you’ll understand why Henry is the Tribune’s “Man of the Year” for 2018.

Henry’s journey began in 1980 after graduating from the Memphis College of Art. While working to establish himself as an artist, he decided to make a lateral move to hone his writing skills and photography. 

This trichotomy has earned Henry respect in Memphis and likewise from the Tribune, which continues to publish the journalist/artist/photographer’s stories from the Memphis community. 

We will begin Henry’s profile in 1993, when the Tri-State Defender published a front-page feature that Henry wrote about Napoleon Bonaparte, an exhibition of personal possessions and historic objects sponsored by WONDERS, the Memphis international cultural series.

Depicting the Napoleonic era of vast riches and opulence, the feature caught the attention of the late Thomas Maurice Sengstacke Picou, a longtime media executive and nephew of the late John H. Sengstacke, who founded the paper in 1951. 

Henry had already launched a career as a gifted artist and was already on staff as a page designer, but it was Picou who recognized Henry’s writing skills and urged the newspaper’s publisher to pay him to write weekly. 

“He couldn’t believe I was the author of the Napoleon Bonaparte feature, even though my byline was at the top of the story,” said Henry, who would go on to write hundreds of stories during his 30-year tenure.

The late Rev. Robert D. Samuelson, an editorial page editor at the newspaper during this time, had also observed Henry’s writing ability and suggested that he seek opportunities to write for a national newspaper.

The minister had other ideas in mind as well to help Henry move forward in the field of journalism. He recommended that Henry compete in journalism competitions for honor and recognition. 

“Rev. Samuelson was teaching English at LeMoyne-Owen College and Shelby State Community College and believed I had the chops to make it as a writer,” said Henry, who took the preacher’s advice and sought out journalism competitions to enter. 

In less than five years, Henry had won or placed in more journalism competitions than any other reporter in the Tri-State Defender’s history: Society of Professional Journalists – Mid-South Pro Chapter winner in 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2001; Lincoln University’s 49th Annual Unity Awards in Media winner in 2002; and Philip Randolph Messenger Awards national winner in 2001 for excellence in journalism.

Henry had moved up at the newspaper as well, from page designer to production manager to senior writer to interim editor and finally to deputy editor before moving on to other ventures.

Writing had now become an integral part of Henry’s life story. He wrote op-eds for The

Bill Purcell, former Nashville mayor

Commercial Appeal, free-lanced for The Memphis Flyer, Grace Magazine, the Black Pages of New Orleans, and of course The Tennessee Tribune. 

After leaving the newspaper, Henry took his writing skills to The Carter Malone Group, a public relations firm and ad agency in Memphis. He spent two years with the firm as its senior account services specialist and senior writer.

While much of Henry’s profile is devoted to journalism, he first established himself as an artist creating masterful artwork on canvas. “I’d always wanted to be an artist and create works of art that mirror me and

Phil Bredesen, former Tennessee governor

depict my community,” said Henry. “This goal has never left me.”

Henry also is a portraitist who has captured the likeness of entertainers, attorneys, judges, ministers, activists, and the not so famous. His oil portraits of former Nashville mayors

Megan Barry, Karl Dean, Bill Purcell and Phillip Bredesen were unveiled at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel in Nashville on Nov. 1, 2016, when The Tennessee Tribune celebrated 25 years of publishing.

Aside from his portrait painting, Henry received

Karl Dean, former Nashville mayor

commissions to paint murals, posters, book illustrations, a Christmas card series, and an African-American check series for then Leader Federal Bank.

Jeffery Nesin, former president of Memphis College of Art, spoke favorably about the MCA graduate. “Wiley

Henry Jr.’s work and his commitment to his community

are exemplary,” he had said. “At MCA we’re very proud of all that he has accomplished.”

As a photographer, Henry has photographed weddings, individual and family portraits, religious services, social gatherings, and political events for some of Memphis’ noted politicians. “I try to avail

Megan Barry, former Nashville mayor

myself to those who wish to document their experiences for posterity,” he said.

Given Henry’s creative output in journalism, art and photography, he still finds time to devote to community service, such as working with non-profits, reading to

inner-city children, and speaking to them in the schools. 

For his efforts, he received the Volunteer of the Year Award in 2000, a Memphis Living Legend Award in 2009, a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017, and this year’s Civil Rights Humanitarian “EBEN” Award. 

The Tennessee General Assembly, Shelby County Commission, and the Memphis City Council had also recognized Henry for his artwork and journalism.

Henry is married to the former Debra Royston. He is the stepfather to her three adult children and grandfather to two active children.