|Center for Historical Research
Past is Prologue
I wish to express my gratitude and that of my family for your kind notice of the passing of my sister, Dr. Lucille McClelland last semester. I especially wish to thank Dr. Felicia Cohen, the present Dean of Nursing at SIUE, for her generous remarks in the Intelligencer as to the role Lucille played in establishing the nursing program there. I also wish to thank Wyvetter Young and the other members of the legislature with whom Lucille worked so hard to benefit the community for honoring her memory. Finally, I thank the many friends and associates who sent their personal expressions of sympathy and gave our family all manner of spiritual support during our hour of crisis. However, there is another reason I am writing this and that has to do with what my sister has revealed regarding Afro-American history in Missouri and Illinois.
Because various members of the Hudlin family have been involved in public service over the last century or so, there have been a number of articles and books written about our family. Normally, it has not been the custom of family members to comment on these. However, as the eldest member of our particular branch of the Hudlins, Lucilles papers have already brought to light many things which are part of our oral tradition, but, further, are in process of publication. Therefore, I should like to break tradition and comment on some aspects of her papers to be released especially as they have to do with the history of the Bi-State Community.
When I was a child, I understood that the progenitor of our branch of the family was our great-grandfather, Peter Hudlin, who was born in the 1820s in Virginia and escaped to freedom. Peter avoided towns for fear of capture and, instead, struck out for the wilds where he settled down among the Cherokee. Eventually, he married Nancy Jane Rutledge from Kentucky, whose portrait I saw as a child in full Indian regalia. Meanwhile he and various brothers established themselves in Chicago and Saint Louis where they became involved in business and, with the assistance of Owen Lovejoy (not to be confused with Elijah P.) ,became conductors on the so-called Underground Railroad called the Lovejoy Line. Peter was living in Saint Louis when the Dred Scott case was tried at the Old Court House and this aroused a great deal of abolitionist resentment. He joined the Knights of Tabor, who, like John Brown, envisioned the end of slavery by force of arms. He knew Frederick Douglas, who declared that the whole thing would end in bloodshed as it did.
Meanwhile the Hudlins helped slaves escape to freedom by the simple expedient of crating them up and shipping them as freight to Chicago via two routes in Southern Illinois. Peters home and safe house has been located on Thirteenth Street near Cass Avenue in Saint Louis. The house has been destroyed above ground, but excavation of the cellars might supply some graduate student with a dissertation. In Chicago, my great-granduncle, Joseph, supplied the fugitives with their needs and helped them to escape to Canada or to places where recapture was unlikely. My great-granduncle, Samuel Hudlin escaped to Canada with the help of a sympathetic sea captain, who dropped him off in New Brunswick hidden in a barrel. Many sympathetic masters paid their slaves wages with which they brought their freedom, like my distant cousin, Pelagie Wrens ancester. In any event, from Boston to British Columbia, I count at least sixty Hudlin families.
My grandfather, Richard Hudlin (1858-1918) became a member of the National Negro League during and after Reconstruction. He worked with Booker T. Washington and WEB Du Bois to resist the return of white supremacy . Meanwhile, he was a publisher and newspaper writer in Saint Louis. There is a book which is contemptuously entitled The Colored Aristocracy of Saint Louis and which criticizes various members of our family for secretly bankrolling the all-white Progressive Party associated with Teddy Roosevelt so that blacks could achieve by money and influence what they could not achieve by the ballot. For example, my father told me that, when the family moved to Cook Avenue, their door was guarded around the clock by white policemen.
My father, Edward W. Hudlin, (1889-1962) .and his siblings were dedicated to breaking the color line in Missouri and Illinois. My cousin, Pelagie Wren, was the first Afro-American to perform at the Muny, for example. My uncle, Richard Hudlin, broke the color line in tennis when he coached Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe to their world championships. His son, Richard, became the first black judge in Illinois. Other family members were active in doing away with Jim Crow in regards to public accommodation. My mother, Myrtle Hudlin (1896,-1988) was a Latin teacher who could not be employed in her youth because she was married; but her children reaped the benefit of her talents. Of the six of us, all earned college degrees and four of us have the doctorate. In 1954 my father sold all that he had so we could move near Cahokia, which was then all white, so as to test the Supreme Court decision. After that, it became the turn of my generation to maintain the family tradition.
Lucille (1920-1998) was the first-born and the only girl so she was very special. However, she was so seriously injured as a child when caught in a fire that she almost lost her life. Years of surgery during her recovery inspired her to be a nurse when she grew up. While studying for her degree, she married and had six children by Norman Ross, a handsome sailor from the West Indies. He suddenly died of cancer when the children were still very young. I do not know how she did it; but she managed to be an ideal mother and still continue her struggle for a career. Her philosophy of healing I attribute partly to my father, who was Catholic by faith, but who lived by Confucian principles. I remember her M.A. thesis had to do with multicultural approaches to healing as well as the spiritual aspects of the doctor-nurse-patient relationship. She was determined that nurses command the same respect as doctors and live up to the same rigorous standards. She envisioned a day when the doctor-nurse relationship would become a seamless web. Meanwhile, following family tradition, she fought discrimination in every form. Finally, she became one of the few Afro-American nurses in her day to earn a doctorate in Nursing. This became the springboard of her extraordinary career, during which, she earned too many honors to be repeated here.
Her second husband, Mr. Charles McClelland, was a Naval Officer and engineer and was gentle and kind to a fault. However, at this point, tragedy struck again: Lucille was diagnosed with a rare form of hepatitis and given less than a year to live. She then resigned from SIUE and resolved to spend her last days keeping a daily journal on the progress of her illness so that doctors could come to understand it from a professional observer and thus help patients in the future. Working with Lucille, the doctors came up with an idea of how to delay the progress of the illness which they miraculously succeeded in doing so for the last 25 years (!)
Meanwhile, when she knew that death was not imminent, she devoted herself to a great number of humanitarian enterprises and acted as a consultant in the world of medicine. Following the death of her second husband, she was especially devoted to working with disabled and special needs children. She had planned to spend the twilight of her life in the Cherokee nation as a healer; but, last fall, the doctors finally ran out of ideas and she spent her last days comforting and providing for the family. She died peacefully in the bosom of the family while singing hymns.
I tell this story in the hope that Lucille will remain an inspiration for all young people whatever ideals they may pursue. I hope it will be of special inspiration for students majoring in nursing. Whatever obstacles young people face today, I hope they will not despair. There was much more cause for despair in Lucilles day, but she never wavered in her convictions nor ever gave up her dreams. I once asked her how she could accomplish so many things while enduring so many hardships. She said that God never hands anyone a burden they cannot bear. In that vein, I hope this little snippet of local history--on the larger stage will encourage all people of good will to continue the struggle against all obstacles (especially in regard to prejudice) in order to make the global village of the next century a place where different groups can truly live together and pursue their ideals as individuals in a society characterized by tolerance, brotherhood, justice, and peace.
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January 3, 2003