Hudlin Entertainment

Warrington Hudlin Sr on Father’s Day

This started as a short post but got long. 

My dad was a man of very high achievement. He overcame poverty and racism to become a successful businessman who constantly gave time to help his community, a loving father who raised three successful men, a talented athlete, and a spiritual leader who challenged narrow minded thinking about religion. 

He was the eldest boy of six children, the son of Edward Hudlin, a stone mason who served in France during the first World War, where he first saw the “rubble style” of home construction. That style of construction was brought to France by the soldiers who saw it in Egypt in the homes where the men who built the pyramids lived. 

My dad and his brothers worked alongside my father building houses. My dad built the three homes our family grew up in with his own hands. 

My dad grew up in Hot Springs, Arkansas during the Great Depression. His mother moved the kids to New York after one too many lynchings of young Black men in the area. 

His parents were too busy working, so my dad enrolled himself in high school. Sometimes he would come home, and the family would have been evicted from their apartment. He would wait until a sibling found him and showed him where the family was living now. Since, they couldn’t afford a radio, his father would stage family debates. If one side was losing, he would switch sides to help them. The point was to learn two sides of an argument, a skill his great granddaughter would perfect decades later. 

To help with expenses, my father delivered telegrams for Western Union, riding through the streets of New York sorting envelopes while weaving through traffic with no hands on the handlebars. 

My dad was also an expert lindy hopper, who would go to New York clubs like the Savoy and put on an acrobatic show so dazzling the crowd would stop and watch them. His friends would challenge each other to see who could create the most “circles” in a night. He was also known as “Orange Juice Hudlin” because he didn’t drink. 

My dad joined the army during World War Two. When his platoon needed a volunteer to work in the office to handle paperwork, he took the job. That night, he blindfolded himself and taught himself how to type. Since he typed up who was late for reveille, he was never late. 

After the war, my dad joined his father in St. Louis, where a recent tornado meant there was a great need for new construction, and there was plenty of the limestone that they used to build homes. They briefly lived in Kinloch, Missouri in a home with a dirt floor and no running water. 

My dad graduated from St. Louis University, which he described as a racist institution. To prove his point, he once switched papers with a white classmate. Suddenly the paper he wrote but was submitted by the white student got a great grade, but the paper the white student wrote but was submitted by my dad got a bad grade. Given that one of my dad’s siblings went on to become a college professor, the other a college dean, three of them went to Ivy League schools and almost all of them received graduate degrees, the Hudlin family’s tradition of academic excellence pushed past obstacles like that. 

There was also a branch of the family there, including my dad’s uncle Richard Hudlin, who coached Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson. My dad won the table tennis championship of New York City, and was an excellent tennis player as well, but he was busy raising his family in East St. Louis with his wife Helen, who shared his focus on education, hard work, parenting and improving the community. 

After a brief stint teaching, he decided to start an insurance agency. Even though he had to convince black customers that the insurance policy he was selling was the same as the one they would buy from a white insurance agent, he became successful enough to be able to lend his dad money, who was still having a tough time supporting the family with his construction business. 

My father was always involved in civic organizations. He was a member of the Chamber of Commerce, the Kiwanis, and coached high school kids about business in Junior Achievement. He helped found a community college in our town to help young people get ready for employment. He advised young business owners in the city and constantly tried to get the city to support business so they could employ more people. 

My dad was asked to run for mayor but was never interested. 

My dad also taught adult Sunday School at the AME Baptist Church he attended. My dad’s eldest son, and namesake went to Yale to study philosophy and shared the books he was reading at school with my father, who considered the ministry before he joined the army. My dad incorporated the Eastern Philosophy into his class and the students loved it! 

But when a new minister took charge of the church, he called for a meeting with my dad and asked why he was teaching a religion that “worshipped idols”. My dad corrected him, explaining that Buddha said to pay no attention to him, only his works. Then my dad pointed out the large statute of Jesus on the cross at the front of the church. That was the end of him teaching at that church, but that is a lesson I will never forget. 

One of my favorite things my father used to do with me is talk to me about his problems. He would talk to me about his disgust with grown men who would hit on teenage girls at Junior Achievement. He would talk to me about how he and his business partner would solve conflicts between them. He would point out when cashiers wouldn’t look you in the eye when they gave you change, which irritated him as a businessman. He would ask my advice, which was a great way of teaching me how to problem solve. 

It hurts me that he never met my wife or my kids. He would have loved to see his grandson playing tennis or debate politics with his granddaughter. I’m glad he got to see my initial success. I’m glad he got to see his son Christopher double his insurance business. I’m glad he got to travel to Europe to film festivals with his son Warrington Jr. I’m glad he had cameos in my first two movies. 

Most of all, I’m glad I had a dad as great as him.