Blogs > Liberty and Power > Hugh Pearson R.I.P

Apr 25, 2006 12:43 pm

Hugh Pearson R.I.P

Much belatedly, the news is circulating about Hugh Pearson who was found dead in his apartment last month in New York at age 47.

I had some contact with Hugh over the last two years regarding our mutual interests in the history of blacks and the writing of biography. I always found him to be a gentleman and willing to take time to provide help and advice. He kindly publicized my reseach (along with Linda Beito) on T.R.M. Howard and the Emmett Till murder on his website

Hugh was an accomplished journalist who had worked for The Wall Street Journal (as an editorial writer) and The Village Voice. In 1994, the biography of his namesake Huey P. Newton, The Shadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and the Price of Black Power in America, was published. It was a superbly written but brutally honest account of Newton's thuggery and opportunism. It is well worth assigning in a history course (as I am doing this semester).

Many leftists lambasted that book and many conservatives praised it. But the conservatives were wrong if they thought that Hugh was one of them. He did not fit into any ideological category. He was a fiercely independent thinker. He never held back in his condemnation of racism and despised Bush's foreign policy. At the same time time, Hugh constantly admonished blacks to hold up the accomplishments of black creators, builders, and entrepreneurs and deplored the current emphasis on gangsta rappers. He complained to me that publishers did not seem interested in books about blacks except if they were entertainers, athletes, and civil rights leaders.

Another of his books, Under the Knife: How a Wealthy Negro Surgeon Wielded Power in the Jim Crow South, was a homage to his great uncle, Joseph Griffin, a highly accomplished doctor. Though Hugh admired his great uncle, his account never held back from the truth. According to the dust jacket, the book focused on the"the struggles of other successful men in his family, charting his forefathers' rise from slavery to ownership of large Georgia farms and flourishing businesses in Jacksonville, Fla., and the accomplishments of his own father, who became the first person of any color in his rural Georgia county to earn a medical degree."

Because of this work on Griffin, we began to correspond about my research on Griffin's contemporary in Mississippi, Dr. T.R.M. Howard.

At the time of his death, Hugh was writing a biography of James Weldon Johnson. He was enthusiastic about the project and I'm sure he would have put his heart into making it of the highest quality.

Sandy Close, who worked with Hugh at the Pacific News Service has commented:

"I don't think anyone who knew Hugh could not feel tremendous sadness...he was a fighter. He was so ambitious to be a writer. He struggled and fought and was really determined to be a writer. The books he published and the essays he wrote certainly demonstrated that he accomplished that."

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Robert Brenner - 10/26/2005

Friends of Hugh Pearson, the author and former Wall Street Journal and Village Voice writer who died in August, are gathering in New York Friday October 28 at a Bubby's Restaurant, location to be determined. In lieu of flowers, they request that donations in his name be made to American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. For more information, e-mail Robert Brenner at

Nancy Ross - 10/21/2005

Hugh is very much missed by me and by his children: Francesca Pearson; Nathaniel Pearson; Jordan Ross.

Madeline Garvin - 9/18/2005

Thank you for recognizing and applauding Hugh, Jr.'s talent, individuality and independence.

I am a few years Hugh's senior; however, I admired his tenacity and his perseverance. Like many, I shall miss his physical being;however, his spirit lives on in the hearts of many.

Madeline Marcelia Garvin

Cynthia Cummings - 9/16/2005

Hugh Pearson’s family is not soliciting donations in his name. We were surprised to discover that a memorial service had been planned. His family was not contacted about this celebration. Although we contacted Hilton Hotels, they have not responded to our request that Hilton confirm that the celebration actually is scheduled.

Hugh never mentioned the “Mesoamerica Foundation.” We contacted the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to determine if the “Hugh Pearson Estuary Memorial Fund” or the “Mesoamerica Foundation” in Coral Gables, FL is a tax exempt organization. According to IRS, there are no exempt organizations named “Mesoamerica Foundation” in Coral Gables, FL. IRS does not have any information about a “Hugh Pearson” memorial fund. See We also contacted the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Consumer Services, which publishes “Gift Givers’ Guide: A Guide to Charitable Giving in Florida.” Neither “Mesoamerica Foundation” nor “Hugh Pearson Estuary Memorial Fund” is registered with the State of Florida. See

We encourage potential donors to carefully investigate any organization before donations are made. The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance provides information to help individuals make giving decisions. The information is available at:

Ana Sofia - 9/9/2005

A celebration of Hugh Pearson’s life will be held in Cancun, on Friday, September 23, 2005.

We will gather and remember the vitality with which he pursued his dream of being a force for positive change through his writing and his advocacy. “We people of black African descent have been quite hard on ourselves. This tendency causes us to narrow our horizons and ostracize the dissenters among us who acknowledge their connection to the rest of mankind. In the process we unwittingly contribute to our oppression, feeding the notion that we are less intelligent than others. This narrow conception of who we are causes many blacks to question something that should be obvious: Is there a universal element connecting us with the rest of mankind?” Hugh argued in

As an observer of the world around him, Hugh believed he could be an agent for change. “My own experience in the world of corporate journalism had long ago taught me that if an Afro-American male expects to survive in the corporate world, the last thing he better be is a brash, self-confident, risk taker (that will automatically get him labeled as arrogant), or a person who shows any sign of a temper (he'll be accused of an inability to get along with others or work in a team),” Hugh wrote.

One of Hugh’s passions in recent years was the proper stewardship of our planet, all the more because he saw the joy spending time in Prospect Park in Brooklyn brought to Francine and Nathanial, his twins, and how he wanted to ensure that they would live in a planet free of environmental degradation. One of his dreams was to take both Francine and Nathaniel to the flamingo and sea turtle sanctuaries in the Yucatan Peninsula. Ria Lagartos and Celestun are part of Nature Conservancy’s “Last Great Places” programs.

This is the Hugh Pearson we remember, and celebrate. The one who believed that words could change lives, and that actions could save our planet. Cognizant of our frailty by virtue of being human, we also recognize the debilitating mental illness that engulfed him, leading to the horrendous decision to end his life in August.

If only he had been around longer to effect change.

Donations to protect our fragile planet in Hugh Pearson’s name can be made to:
Hugh Pearson Estuary Memorial Fund
Mesoamerica Foundation
P. O. Box 140681
Coral Gables, Florida 33114-0681

Ana Sofia
Friday, September 23, 2005
Hilton Cancun Golf & Spa Resort, Cancun
9 PM

David T. Beito - 9/3/2005

I think I heard that too.

rluker - 9/3/2005

My impression was that Huey P. Newton was named for Huey P. Long. Newton was a Louisiana native.