It had been almost 53 years since his graduation when Col. George T. Hudgens returned to Arkansas Tech University to deliver the institution’s 2016 Black History Month keynote address on Tuesday.
As Hudgens spoke in the Doc Bryan Lecture Hall, he offered a recitation of the change he has witnessed during his life.
“The path to progress is always under construction,” said Hudgens.
A member of the Arkansas Tech Class of 1963, Hudgens was the first African-American graduate of what was then known as Arkansas Polytechnic College.
Hudgens said that shortly after enrolling at Arkansas Tech, he “immediately became aware of the adage that these are the times that try men’s souls.”
He told of not being allowed to eat with the other students in the cafeteria, not being permitted to live in campus housing and being barred from participation in intercollegiate athletics.
However, Hudgens said he also received a great deal of support from a number of people both on and off campus. He recalled becoming the first African-American student at Arkansas Tech chosen for Blue Key Honor Society, a senior fellowship in the history department and “Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges.” Hudgens was also the first African-American to complete the U.S. Army ROTC program at Arkansas Tech as a Distinguished Military Graduate.
Hudgens described the ROTC program at Arkansas Tech as a “social and developmental refuge.”
Upon his graduation from Arkansas Tech, Hudgens was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
He served as a commander in Vietnam and led the mechanized infantry battalion at Fort Carson in Colorado. In 1983, be became a regimental commander for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. There, he was responsible for the training, supervision, development and welfare of 2,400 prospective Army officers.
He went on to work at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Hudgens was chief of for the U.S. Armed Forces inaugural committee for President George H.W. Bush in 1988 and was deputy director for that committee when his fellow Arkansan, Bill Clinton, was inaugurated as president in 1992.
After 29 years of active duty, Hudgens retired from the U.S. Army at the rank of Colonel. His second career as a civilian included time as chief executive officer and national director for organizations that provide juvenile justice services.
“Somehow, we appear to be losing sight of some of the basic rights and national principles…justice, equality and human dignity,” said Hudgens of the current state of race relations in America. “We cannot and we must not let the ugly, racist past become the awful present and the horrific future.
“We are all in this together,” continued Hudgens. “Either we swim or we sink together. While we’re here, let’s do the best that we can to make this institution of higher learning, this state and this country the best that it