J. Blaine Hudson: A Remembrance

By Tom Owen, Archives & Special Collections
Reprinted with permission by The Owl

I got to know Blaine Hudson well in the late 1970s when he was a PhD student doing research at the University Archives in our collections related to the history of the Louisville Municipal College, 1931-1951, an undergraduate college for Blacks run by UofL. (In 1981, he finished his dissertation at the University of Kentucky on the closing of that college.) As a researcher, Blaine was friendly, focused and determined.

Black student union protest, 1969

Black student union protest, 1969

In fact, our paths had unknowingly crisscrossed at UofL a decade earlier when I was an MA grad student and later full-time Instructor in the History Department and Blaine was an undergraduate activist organizing protests with the Black Student Union. I am confident I followed him, as he and other Black protestors in 1969 occupied University President Woodrow Strickler’s office, calling for the recognition of the African American experience in the University curriculum. The next year Blaine and I ALMOST passed one another in the hallway of the brand new Office of Black Affairs; he was a tutor there in the Spring of 1970, and just months later I began teaching a course in Black History through that same office.

Years later, after Blaine joined the faculty in the Pan-African Studies Department in 1992, he came back to the University Archives to do research on his book, Fugitive Slaves and the Underground Railroad in the Kentucky Borderland, and more recently Two Centuries of Black Louisville, which he co-authored with Ken Clay and Merv Aubespin. Over the same decades, when I was paired on the same local history program with Dr. Hudson, I always learned new facts, but even more importantly came to view the topic from his fresh perspective. Without histrionics, his manner effused scholarship, directness, and a love for his community and the university. Blaine Hudson believed that THE TRUTH truly would set you free!

The past several years I served on the UofL College of Arts and Science’s Hall of Fame award selection committee, where I watched Dean Hudson (our chair) navigate disagreements, nudge us toward consensus, and sometimes steer us where he wanted to go without the appearance of a heavy hand. His low-key manner, slow speech, and melliferous voice kept anyone from hunkering down on a position early in the deliberations.

My most cherished memory of Blaine Hudson occurred just last May when the UofL Alumni Office paired the two of us on a Sunday afternoon historical boat tour on the Ohio River. As we cruised along from Harrods Creek down to the basin in front of downtown and back, we seasoned Louisville natives and local historians without notes or rehearsal talked of the river and its banks from our unique perspectives. While there isn’t a “white” history and a “black” history, it became clear that OUR Ohio River history was much richer because the narrators were shaped by our different racial experience. The tour I believe is a classic example where one plus one equaled much more than TWO! Eight months ago, if I had known that Blaine Hudson would be gone by January, I would have insisted that our Ohio River history “rap” be preserved on tape!

J. Blaine Hudson’s contributions to our university, community and scholarly guild are multi-layered and enduring. He was a hard-nosed communicator of sometimes uncomfortable history truths, a skilled administrator, a poet, a careful researcher, and always an activist conspiring to make sure we never overlooked the story of the African Diaspora. While I was in no way his close friend, I’m privileged and blessed to have crossed paths with him for almost forty-five years.

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