“I am the one and only Henry Hall. I was born to Eugene and Annie Hall. Mama was a Creek Indian and dad was a Choctaw. She was beautiful. 1932 was the depression. I was 8 or 9 and pulling the wagon of clothes for mama. She washed clothes on a washboard in our home for 60 cents for white people. I left school before it was out to help. She couldn’t pay the rent and they put us out on the street. We lived on the street several times. We lived in Down the Bay and around Davis Avenue area. We ate at Babe’s Hot dog stand. My mama died in 1949. I was 17 years old. Out of 13 children, I was the only one who helped out and I am the only one still alive.
I learned how to sew and make clothes from my mama. She made beads and ballerina skirts. I bought material at Woolworth’s. My brothers and sisters and the other kids laughed at me for making clothes and called me a ‘sissy boy.’ But I sold the clothes I made and earned money for movies, and my clothes. When I was 13, I worked for Albright & Wood drugs store delivering drugs in the rain and all kinds of weather and used the money on ice cream. I worked at Merchant Bank for 38 years. I was a porter and hauled money, cleaned, and moved things. I cooked at the Battle House for 26 cents an hour. I also shined shoes. The white people wanted you to pop that rag and they would give you an extra nickel or dime. Pop goes the weasel.
I was in the Army from 1953-55 and was the first black man to work in the infantry headquarters in Ft. Benning. I was in basic training for 16 weeks and taught about maps. Most of the men I served with are dead now. I did a show there where I danced and sang Nat King Cole. In the Army I learned to listen to people because you might learn something.
I was supposed to be the king of black Mardi Gras in 1957, but I couldn’t get up the last $300 I needed to do it. I used to dance for the Mardi Gras balls and make gowns and robes for the kings and queens. I danced in the clubs in Mobile and New Orleans.
I moved into this house in 1962. Hall House of Wonders. My mind goes 24 hours a day thinking about what I can create. I don’t ever sleep. I go scavenging and make treasures out of what other people throw out. Razamataz. I can take anything and make something out of it. My uncle made signs and I learned a lot from him. When I see something out there, it is already photographed in my mind and I know what I am going to do with it. I want to write children’s books about the bugs I meet in my yard in the wilderness. I love music, it is on at all times for me to dance or create to it.
I once showed my work in New Orleans. I am 90 years old. It has been many years since I have had an art show. I am so excited about making art in front of people again.
Life has been beautiful. There were trials and tribulations and bumps in the road. Mama put the spirit in me and I know the air I am breathing now is God. I am thankful for all that He has given me.”
Meet the “one and only” Henry Hall and watch him work at his pop-up art show during Art Walk on Friday, Sept. 13 at the Lost Garden at 265 Dauphin Street (next to the Downtown Mobile Alliance).
Henry Hall needed more than pictures and words for his story. This is our first video with a story for Our Southern Souls. Video by Kris Skoda with help from Vincent Lawson.