T. J. Huddleston Sr.

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T. J. Huddleston Sr. (June 1, 1876 – 1959) was a prominent African American entrepreneur and community leader in Mississippi. He owned dozens of funeral homes in Mississippi.[1] He was the grandfather of former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy, former Mayor Henry Espy of Clarksdale, Mississippi, and great-grandfather of current Clarksdale, Mississippi Mayor and former Mississippi Representative Chuck Espy (D - Clarksdale).

Huddleston was also the father of Leon Finney Sr. (1916-2008), the founder of a popular barbecue chain in Chicago, who in turn was the father of Leon Finney Jr. (1938-), a prominent Chicago minister and current president and CEO of the Woodlawn Organization. The Chicago and Mississippi branches of the family retain political ties.[2]


T(homas) J(efferson) Huddleston Sr. was born on June 1, 1876.[3]

In 1924, Huddleston founded the Afro-American Sons and Daughters, a fraternal organization in Yazoo City, Mississippi.[4] Four years later, he built and operated the Afro-American Hospital in Yazoo. It was Mississippi's first hospital owned and operated by blacks.[4]

Huddleston's children with his wife Patience included:

  • Carrie Huddleston
  • Fontaine Huddleston
  • Ethel Huddleston
  • Lula Huddleston
  • T(homas) J(efferson) Huddleston Jr., (March 2, 1909—May 10, 1990))[5]
  • Toledo Huddleston - mother of Dr. Luke Helm of Chicago, IL
  • Willie Jean Huddleston, (October 22, 1914—September 1985) [6] mother of Carrie Jean Espy, Henry Espy, Thomas Espy, LaVerne Espy, Joyce Espy, Mike Espy and Michelle Espy.

Huddleston had one child with Georgiana Colvin called Blanche Huddleston.

Huddleston had one child with Jennie Parker:[7] Christopher Columbus Huddleston (April 18, 1896 - December 12, 1982)[8]

Afro American Sons and Daughters[edit]

"Under the burden of Jim Crow, how did African Americans obtain health care? For nearly 40 years the Afro-American Hospital of Yazoo City, Mississippi, was a leading health care supplier for blacks in the Mississippi Delta. It was founded in 1928 by the Afro-American Sons and Daughters, a black fraternal society, and provided a wide range of medical services. The society, which eventually had 35,000 members, was led by Thomas J. Huddleston, a prosperous black entrepreneur and advocate of Booker T. Washington's self-help philosophy. The hospital had a low death rate compared to other hospitals that served blacks in the South during the period. It ceased operation in 1966 as a fraternal entity after years of increasingly burdensome regulation, competitive pressure from government and third-party health care alternatives, and the migration of younger dues-paying blacks to the North." .[9]

Look Around Mississippi - Brick by Brick By Walt Grayson

Plans are underway to restore the old Afro-American Sons and Daughters Hospital in Yazoo City, and the people doing it are looking for anybody who was ever served by the hospital. Walt Grayson has more in this week’s look around Mississippi.

The hospital closed in 1972. Since then the building has sat idle, deteriorating in Yazoo City. But it certainly was active during the 60 years it served the black community. It was the first hospital for African Americans in the state when it was built. Before then, there was no health care facility blacks could use. Then in 1928 Mr. T.J. Huddleston Sr. changed that. Mr. Huddleston was Mike Espy's grandfather.

"He was quite a figure. At one point he was the largest black land owner in Mississippi. But he always wanted to serve the people. So he started a grand lodge called the Afro American Sons and Daughters Grand Lodge. After a while he said ‘I'm tired of our women having our babies in cotton fields, and we need to build us a hospital. Give me a dollar for a brick and I'll build us a hospital,’" detailed Espy.

Then for 50 cents a month dues, members of the organization qualified for any care the facility offered. Over 30 thousand operations were performed here. No telling how many babies were born here. And people had a safety net and were no longer helpless if they needed hospitalization.

The civil rights legislation of the 1960s rendered it obsolete when anyone could go anywhere for treatment. But now, a new Afro-American Sons and Daughters Hospital Association is trying to raise over a million and a half dollars to restore the old building and turn it into a museum, a day care facility and perhaps include an out-patient clinic.

"You hear so many terrible stories. This is a good story of people coming together and deciding they wanted to do something to promote their own community and do something for themselves. This hospital got no government money. So they came together for a dollar a brick, and that put this hospital here. Now the foundation and the family wants to identify those people who were served by this hospital," Espy explained.

There is to be a big reunion of everyone born in or served by the hospital and those who worked there after the restoration is complete. You can contact the Ricks Memorial Library in Yazoo City if you fit into that category.[10]


  1. ^ Founded Leon's Bar-B-Q - Employees, Mississippi, Woodlawn Organization - chicagotribune.com
  2. ^ NEWSMEAT ▷ LEON FINNEY's federal campaign contribution search results
  3. ^ World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database online], Humphreys County, Mississippi at http://www.ancestry.com
  4. ^ a b http://www.visitmississippi.org/itineraries/themes_african_american_timeline.asp Mississippi Convention and Visitors Bureau: African-American Heritage Timeline
  5. ^ Social Security Death Index [database online], Thomas J. Huddleston at http://www.ancestry.com
  6. ^ Social Security Death Index [database online], Willie Espy at http://www.ancestry.com
  7. ^ greatgrandaughter
  8. ^ Social Security Death Index
  9. ^ David T. Beito and Linda Royster beito Let Down Your Bucket Where You Are':The Afro-American Hospital and Black Health Care in Mississippi, 1924-1966, Social Science History 30 (Winter 2006), 551-69.
  10. ^ http://www.wlbt.com/Global/story.asp?s=3772666&clienttype=printable

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