Follow Us On:

Gilliland Center remembers Mai Dee Hendricks

Posted on Wednesday, April 3, 2024 at 8:05 am


To celebrate the close of Women’s History Month, a “Sip & Read Tea Party” was sponsored by the “devoted ladies” of the Gilliland Historical Resource Center on Saturday, March 30.

The event highlighted former Shelbyville resident and Gilliland Center founder, Mai Dee Hendricks, and her book “I Must Tell My Story, A Jewel in the Making,” which was written in 2005.

As far as the members know, they have only one copy of the book available. Passages and excerpts from Hendricks’s book were passed around and read, while her family members and friends remembered her legacy. The get-together exemplified the society’s goal “to serve and preserve.”

“This book is so endearing and so interesting to me because it is so vividly descriptive and relatable. The words of the pages just come to life,” said Rosie Biggs.

In 1996, after returning to Shelbyville, Hendricks immediately became active in the community. She successfully organized a group of concerned citizens who were interested in saving the Gilliland historical house, which had fallen into disrepair, according to Biggs.

The Gilliland House is a “unique vernacular stone building completed by locally renowned African American stone mason James S. ‘Jim’ Gilliland in the late nineteenth century,” according to the Tennessee Encyclopedia. Gilliland died in 1949, after a long life dedicated to his masonry craft and to civic affairs.

The house, which is located on Lipscomb Street, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

Together, Hendricks and members of the community formed the Gilliland Committee and raised money and received grants to renovate the house. In 2000, they hosted the first grant opening of the Gilliland house.

Hendricks, who was also an educator and community activist, passed away in 2011 at the age of 81.

“Mrs. Mai Dee Hendricks helped bring Gilliland to light,” said Biggs.

A guest appearance was made Avila (Ivy) Hendricks Nilon, PhD, daughter of Mai Dee. She is a professor at Lincoln University.

“My mother would have just enjoyed all this,” said Nilon, who talked about Hendricks’s love of literature and poetry.

Tennessee’s poet laureate and local Bell Buckle resident, Maggi Vaughn, also made a guest appearance and read a poem she wrote in honor of Women’s History Month.

“Men may build a town, but women hold it up,” Vaughn began with her poem. “Men see construction, women see a buttercup…

“Mai Dee was a leader. Her dues were paid. And when it came to band, she led the parade.”

Joanne Gaunt also read a poem, “Let America Be America Again,” by Langston Hughes, the first black poet to make a living off of poetry during the Harlem Renaissance. It was a poem that Mai Dee Hendricks made her children read and memorize.

“Let America be America again. / Let it be the dream it used to be. / Let it be the pioneer on the plain / Seeking a home where he himself is free…

“O, yes, / I say it plain, / America never was America to me, / And yet I swear this oath— / America will be!”