The late Matthew Henry, who taught economics at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, was described as a “pioneer in our profession” recently by the Arkansas State Board of Public Accountancy.
In a letter to Henry’s family, Board Executive Director Jimmy Corley said research conducted by his office indicated that Henry was the first African-American certified public accountant in Arkansas. Corley also enclosed an article that was published in the Journal of Accounting and Finance in 2014 about Henry, who died on Wednesday at the age of 74. Born in Rison, Henry operated his accounting firm in Pine Bluff for many years.
The article sent to his family was an oral history of Henry that was based on an interview with David T. Dearman of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. According to the article, Henry graduated from a segregated high school in 1960 and from Arkansas AM&N College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. He went on to earn a master’s degree at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta), taught business and accounting at Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee, for a year, then spent two years as Chief Accountant at Philander Smith College in Little Rock before returning to Pine Bluff in 1969 to teach accounting.
“In my family in growing up, we didn’t even talk about a CPA,” Henry said during the interview. “I didn’t know what a CPA was. We were a poor family. But it was something I knew when I was in college.”
Henry said he tried to change his major in college but his instructor wouldn’t let him, and when he started teaching, textbooks referred to the CPA.
“So I decided that was something I wanted to do — the certification,” he said. “So I got it, earned it, completed the requirements for certification in 1974.”
In his classes, Henry promoted certification to his students as a desirable goal.
“My instructors, back in those days … they didn’t … I guess they didn’t know anybody from our institution who had gone on to achieve that,” Henry said.
Henry said in the interview that his first experience with accounting came when he kept books for his father, who was a logging contractor, as well as driving the truck.
“He had a crew of men and I kept the paperwork for him, computing the amount of wages they would get paid and so forth,” Henry said. “That was in high school. I thought so much of that opportunity for him to carry me on the job and drive the truck as far as, sometimes, from Pine Bluff to Minden (Louisiana) on the outskirts of Shreveport.”
Also during the interview, Henry said he did not encounter obstacles in his desire to gain certification but did say he was snubbed by other test takers because he was the only African-American in the group. He also acknowledged that if he had not already had a job in higher education, it would have been difficult for him to earn a living as an African-American CPA tax preparer because “most all my clients were poor.”