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Opinion

Worthy legacies

SoVaNow.com / March 10, 2021
Ever soft soften but never afraid to speak his mind, the late W.P. Hudgins Sr. of Clarksville exerted a powerful influence as Mecklenburg’s first Black county supervisor that continues to be felt today.

Hudgins, who died Sunday at the age of 89, two days before his 90th birthday, not only became the first African-American to chair the county board, he set an example of what it meant to be an effective chairman that others have emulated since.

Disclaimer: I considered myself a friend and admirer and made no secret especially of the latter part. Along with the late Jack Hite, the Clarksville area was blessed to have two supervisors who were among the most intelligent and incisive public officials I’ve ever encountered at the local level. But whereas Hite was a polarizing figure on the Board of Supervisors — his wicked sense of humor ensured it would be so, despite his manifestly fair conduct as a board chair in his own right — Hudgins was courtly, consensus-seeking and endlessly patient, even when the occasional disparaging remark would be made at meetings that would rightfully raise hackles in a more enlightened setting.

It’s impossible to describe the advancement that Hudgins’ career represented without acknowledging what he often ran up against as a Black man in a position of newfound political influence. The ability to suffer fools was one part of W.P.’s skillset; knowing how and when to deftly put fools in their place was another. Hudgins had a gift for letting miscreants talk themselves into a corner before he would leave them behind in the discussions that ensued. He earned the trust of fellow supervisors as a chairman who welcomed all points of view, other than the random bigoted comments which he usually was only an oblique target of. (This was back in the days when racism was mostly expressed indirectly, not openly.) Because W.P. was extremely likeable, he did not lack for defenders when flare-ups did occur from time to time. This was evident back in the days when I’d regularly cover Board of Supervisors meetings for this newspaper — The Sun has since upgraded with crackerjack reporter Susan Kyte taking over the assignment — and memories of bitter dealings among board factions were still fresh when Hudgins first took his seat (and broke Mecklenburg’s color barrier) in 1991. By the time he departed a decade later, the atmospherics were completely different, and vastly improved.

To get a sense of Hudgins’ continuing influence, one only needs to look at an issue that has been in the headlines in recent months — the relocation of the Confederate soldier statue from the Mecklenburg County courthouse — and consider how Hudgins’ successors on the Board of Supervisors handled the decision. Worlds of credit must go to all members of the board who spared Mecklenburg from the uglier impulses on display elsewhere in debates over Confederate monuments. But two individuals do stand out in a laudable crowd: Boydton supervisor Glanzy Spain, who has taken on the title of longest-serving member after becoming Mecklenburg’s second African-American supervisor after Hudgins, and South Hill-area supervisor Glenn Barbour, who holds Hudgins’ old spot as board chair. Spain first broached the subject of moving the statue off public grounds in a way that appealed to open-minded listeners, and Barbour, definitely a member of that group, kept the board focused on reaching a decision that everyone could live with. (It appears the monument is headed to the Presbyterian graveyard in Boydton, an appropriate setting, and I say that without irony or sarcasm.)

Again, one cannot do justice to this fortuitous result without also acknowledging the role of supervisors Jim Jennings, David Brankley and Sterling Wilkerson, who voted against moving the statue but refrained from the kind of demagoguery that could have blown up the board and the entire county. All of this followed neatly from a desire for harmony and consensus that Hudgins pursued in painstaking fashion in his time as a supervisor. The result is that Mecklenburg has shed a symbol of its less savory past without many people sensing a poisoned future.

Anyway, as I said: I was a fan of Hudgins’ leadership as a board member and this paean of praise doesn’t even touch on his remarkable career as a school teacher, principal and school administrator, another realm where the scope of Hudgins’ contributions is incalculable. How lucky Mecklenburg was to have him in our presence. To his family and friends, our deepest condolences. W.P. will be solely missed.

***

Some random thoughts:

Against my better judgment, I find myself paying attention to the Royals. No, not the baseball team — the other Royals, a.k.a.. the Firm based out of Buckingham Palace. This is what too much time on Netflix watching The Crown will do to a sober-minded person. (We all agree the term applies to your humble correspondent, right?) I have nothing to add to the conversation about Meghan and Harry’s sit-down this week with Oprah, other than this now-famous interview has gotten traction not because of the fundamentally silly people who are involved, but because the invocations of royal privilege, snobbery and yes, bigotry, resonate beyond the palace walls to touch on everyday life for too many folks. Feel free to throw your own log on the fire.

Aside from The Crown, another Netflix show that’s quite a hoot is Derry Girls, a British import about young women (and one teenage boy) growing up in the Northern Ireland town of Derry. I won’t attempt to describe this show except to note that it does a fine job of showing just how deeply the Irish detest the British. (Doesn’t apply in the case of every individual, of course, but it’s a clear societal preference.) One thing that comes through loud and clear from watching Derry Girls is that the U.K. really, really doesn’t want to bring back The Troubles, the name for Irish Republican Army-Unionist violence that raged before Bill Clinton played a key role in bringing the two sides together with the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

That pact resulted in open borders between the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland and calmed the roiling, bloody waters between neighbors. Now, because of Brexit, the Brits threaten to undo the peace by reinstating a hard border with Ireland for trade-related reasons. (The United Kingdom has left the European Union, Ireland remains a committed member.) This is all a minor obsession of mine — weird, I know — but it does bring us to the single best piece I’ve seen written on the Prince Harry and Meghan bombshell interview. Naturally, it’s from a columnist with The Irish Times, those hot-tempered toffs.

Can’t quote much of the piece, because it’s riotously potty mouthed in places, but I’m willing to call it a year and nominate columnist Patrick Freyne for penning the best lead paragraph (plus one) that we’ll see in 2021:

Having a monarchy next door is a little like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and has daubed their house with clown murals, displays clown dolls in each window and has an insatiable desire to hear about and discuss clown-related news stories. More specifically, for the Irish, it’s like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and, also, your grandfather was murdered by a clown.

Beyond this, it’s the stuff of children’s stories. Having a queen as head of state is like having a pirate or a mermaid or Ewok as head of state. What’s the logic? Bees have queens, but the queen bee lays all of the eggs in the hive. The queen of the Britons has laid just four British eggs, and one of those is the sweatless creep Prince Andrew, so it’s hardly deserving of applause.


... And to think some people read this column and think I’m rude. The piece is titled, “Harry and Meghan: The union of two great houses, the Windsors and the Celebrities, is complete,” (Irish Times, March 8) and it’s brilliant. Click if you dare.



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