Breaking Barriers: Wendell Hudson integral in integrating college sports

In 1969, University of Alabama head men’s basketball coach C.M. Newton along with assistant coach Jock Sutherland would change the course of athletics at the institution forever. They broke major ground by recruiting Wendell Hudson, the first Black man who played varsity sports for the University of Alabama.

Hudson, a native of Birmingham, remembers vividly what it was like being Black in the South during those fraught decades. Being the first and then-only Black athlete was a major challenge.

“I grew up in an all Black neighborhood. I went to an all Black high school,” Hudson said. “Parker High School in Birmingham was all Black at the time. I had limited interactions with people of other races until I got to college.”

Hudson, now 71, said it was important for his mother to know he’d be safe in that environment.

“Mother asked Coach Newton how I would be treated at the University of Alabama,” Hudson said. “He said he didn’t know. That was an honest answer. It was as honest as it could be.”

As a young Black man entering an environment with strained tensions at best, Hudson said Newton’s honesty was something of a relief.

“Newton (told Hudson’s mother) ‘the thing that I will tell you is that I will treat your son well and try my best to make sure your son is treated as well as he can be treated.’ ”

And that’s exactly what he did.

Assistant UA men’s coach Wimp Sanderson said they treated Hudson the same as any other player on the team from the day he arrived.

“(Hudson) wasn’t selfish,” Sanderson said. “He was a team player, which I think is the No. 1 thing. Secondly, he had great ability. He had great basketball skills. He wasn’t the kind of guy to come in and show everyone how many points he could score or what he could do. I think that was the real key.”

To say he succeeded at the university is an understatement. Hudson was named SEC MVP in 1971 and 1972, was selected as an All-American in 1973 and was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in the second round of the 1973 NBA draft.

Following his pro career, he returned to Alabama, this time as an assistant coach. He also had successful coaching stops at the University of North Alabama, Rice University, the University of Mississippi and Baylor University.

In 1997, he became athletic director at McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas. And between 2008 and 2013 he coached Alabama’s women’s basketball team.

In 2001, Hudson was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. In 2020, he was the first player to have a jersey retired in Coleman Coliseum.

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