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H. Claude Hudson Dies at 102; Helped Found NAACP

January 28, 1989|BURT A. FOLKART | Times Staff Writer

H. Claude Hudson, a founder of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and probably the most revered black leader in Los Angeles, died Thursday in his sleep at the Hospital of the Good Samaritan. The son of slaves, Hudson became a dentist and the first black to get a degree in law from Loyola University. He was 102, and for years was known simply as "Mr. NAACP."

The black elder statesman helped desegregate beaches here, helped scores of local churches with their finances and later became a successful businessman.

He was born to sharecropper parents in rural Louisiana and was working as a bricklayer when he decided to enroll in dental school at Howard University in Washington. There he met both whites and blacks who were to trying to improve the life styles of those who were then called Negroes.

The blacks got together off campus periodically and once, he told New West magazine in 1980, tried to meet in a hotel in Niagara Falls. It was 1905 and no hotel on the American side would rent to them, so with their leader, the legendary W. E .B. DuBois, they stayed on the Canadian side of the falls and for a time called themselves the Niagara Movement.

"But no one knew what the devil 'the Niagara Movement' meant," Hudson said later. "So the name was changed (in 1910) to the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People."

The first president was Moorfield Storey, a past president of the American Bar Assn. and a white man, Hudson recalled. DuBois became director of publicity and research.

Back to Louisiana

After graduation from Howard, Hudson returned to Louisiana to practice and became president of the NAACP in Shreveport, a job that he told The Times in 1974 "was tantamount to signing a death warrant." He worked there to protest meetings of the Ku Klux Klan and 40 years later returned to Southern soil to march with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Word of his death spread quickly.

"Dr. H. Claude Hudson was one of the most outstanding community leaders and civil rights leaders the city has ever known," Mayor Tom Bradley said Friday in a written statement. "He was a local and national force in the civil rights movement. He will be sorely missed by the entire city."

Anthony Essex, president of the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP, said: "His passing represents the end of an era in which the fight for freedom and equality was a ground-breaking and life-threatening experience; certainly the benefits of the changes he fought for will be enjoyed for generations to come."

Essex, who first met Hudson when Hudson was 97 years old, added, "Anyone in my generation that was in his presence was in a position of awe."

Hudson and his family moved to Los Angeles in 1923 and two years later he successfully challenged the restrictive swimming laws at area beaches. He and seven black USC students, recruited by the NAACP, swam outside "The Inkwell," a strip of sand at the end of Pico Boulevard where blacks were permitted to swim. Hudson was there, he said, "to see that no race riot started."

Police officers arrested them and they were fined $500 apiece or given 90 days in jail, but when the verdicts were finally overturned, Los Angeles beaches had become integrated.

That victory brought him great joy, Hudson said. "I took the blackest little boy I could find and went to the beach with him. We ran along the beach from the Inkwell all the way up the coast and no one bothered us."

No Office Space

When Hudson came to Los Angeles he could find no decent buildings available to blacks for an office, so he built a home and put his dental office there. He served for years as branch president of the NAACP here and said in 1983, when the county Board of Supervisors honored him on his 97th birthday, that since that day when he built his home "I've been busy in Los Angeles trying to do something to make it a better place in which to live."

Those efforts still go on. As recently as the 1960s, when Hudson moved his family to View Park, an area north of Inglewood, "For Sale" signs sprouted like mushrooms and his picture window was smashed six times by rocks.

"That was before they knew about bombs," he said with a bitter laugh.

Hudson's honors over the years included accolades from the two universities from which he graduated, Howard and Loyola. He never practiced law but he studied it to help with his NAACP work.

Helped Found Hospital

Supervisor Kenneth Hahn called Hudson "one of the key doctors responsible for the creation of the Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital." A comprehensive health center and an auditorium at King are named for him.

His interests eventually turned to business, and in 1947 he helped found Broadway Federal Savings & Loan Assn., serving as its president and board chairman from 1949 to 1986. During his tenure, assets grew from $3 million to $66 million.

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