J. Blaine Hudson’s deep, wise voice carried like the gentle turn of a page. When he spoke, people listened, be it a room full of college students, average citizens or political leaders. This past week, the longtime educator, activist, scholar, and leading voice in Louisville’s African-American community died at age 63.
Ricky Jones grew close with Hudson upon taking a job at University of Louisville’s Pan-African Studies Department in 1996, a department Hudson helped build. (In addition to working as a professor, Jones writes a column for LEO.)
“The man was like a father to me. I haven’t cried so much since my grandmother died in 2009,” Jones says. “He was … incredibly smart. But at the same time not full of himself at all, incredibly humble, incredibly accessible.”
Hudson’s rise to dean of U of L’s College of Arts and Sciences may have seemed unlikely back in 1969. That year, he was arrested after protesting inside that very office, demanding greater opportunities for black students and faculty. Hudson was expelled but later able to return.
During his tenure as dean, Hudson expanded degree and certificate programs, helped grow graduation rates, and played an integral role in the formation of the Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research. Cate Fosl, the institute’s director, says that while Hudson had not been on campus this past fall following cranial surgery, his absence leaves a “strange feeling.”
“It’s an unimaginable loss,” says Fosl, who admired Hudson’s commitment to social justice issues, like Louisville’s persistent neighborhood segregation.
Hudson, a renowned researcher and author who racked up many prestigious awards, had opportunities to leave. But the man who grew up in west Louisville stayed.
“He never told me this point blank,” Fosl says, “but it seems so evident to me that he stayed out of his deep devotion to this campus and this city.”
Hudson’s Saturday Academy, formed in 1990, exhibited that loyalty. The free, public classes focused on African culture and African-American history. Within the last year, Hudson’s post as chairman of Mayor Greg Fischer’s violence prevention work group also highlighted a desire to better his hometown.
“Nobody can name another person in this community, especially in the African-American community, that has that skill set and that dedication, not in one person,” Jones says. “And that’s not overstating it at all.”
In his obituary, Hudson’s family asks anyone wishing to honor Hudson to do so with a contribution to U of L’s Pan-African Studies Department.
A longer version of this story can be found on LEO’s Fatlip news blog.