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The American business community is mourning the loss of William Randolph Hudgins, a trailblazing African American entrepreneur who in 1948 helped found the Carver Federal Savings and Loan Association (better known today as Carver Bank and the nation’s largest black financial institution). Hudgins, who died on Aug. 31 at age 100, served as president of Carver for 18 years before resigning to help establish Freedom National Bank with a group that included Major League Baseball legend Jackie Robinson.
“Get ideas, process them, and make things happen,” was the business philosophy that Hudgins developed and applied throughout his extraordinary career. Carver was started with assets of $250,000 that included $14,000 in cash and the rest in pledges from community residents. During his first seven years as president, Hudgins worked without a salary, believing his sacrifice would benefit current and future generations of African Americans. By 2006, Carver’s assets had grown to $765 million.
In the 1940s, Harlem boasted many black homeowners and businesspeople, but access to capital was a major challenge. According to Earl G. Graves Sr., publisher of BLACK ENTERPRISE magazine, the necessary funds were most often borrowed from family, friends, and informal credit unions. “Bill Hudgins recognized the need,” says Graves, and then filled it.
“Minority institutions play a critical role in economic development in their communities, and Hudgins really was a pioneer. He was one of the first to recognize the need for minority institutions to play a role in black home and business ownership,” says James Ballentine, director of housing and economic development for the American Bankers Association.
“I don’t think we’ll come up with a long list of men, of any race or era, who successfully started two banks. He leaves an enormous legacy for his family and our entire community,” says Deborah C. Wright, Carver’s current president.