James & Annie Peden Kerr
Mr. Kerr’s date of birth is in 1934. His first home, from birth to four years, was on 4th and Allen Streets near the old St. Mary’s school. His family then moved to 3rd and State Streets and then to the corner of Front Street into a large yellow house owned by the Martin family. His father, Robert Kerr, was a cab driver, frequenting the train station. He once drove Legs Diamond from the train to his mansion in Catskill. Before that Mr. Kerr’s father was a chauffeur to Dr. Johnson in Claverack. His father died in 1953. His mother worked at the Pocketbook Factory. When his grandfather came over he first worked for Livingston Family as a farmer, then later in the brewing industry.
From the time he was fourteen Mr. Kerr worked. He had jobs for the grocer, Mr. Lipschitz, Richmond’s, Marcus Fabrics, and the Community Theater. None of his black friends worked in the same places he worked. Jim didn’t know where his black friends worked.
The black families in Hudson lived mostly on the 400 block of Columbia Street; the Fishers, the Griffin Family, The Pells, and the Cobbins family. Norm Griffin and Henry Fisher were the best baseball and basketball players at school. Mr. Pell was a sexton at Christ Episcopal Church. His sons were George, Edward, Robert and he had an older daughter. There were other ethnic groups as well; the Italians, Polish, and Irish all played together on Front Street. Even though he played with the black kids, they never came inside his house nor did he go inside their homes. Barber shops were separate for whites and blacks.
In the middle of 3rd and Columbia Streets was a recreation center for black kids with a jukebox. Neal Anderson, of Bates and Anderson, owned the property of the Hudson Boys’ Club. Black or white, the kids went there. For a nickel on Friday night you could see a Western movie.
According to Jim’s father-in-law, there was only one black person in Stottville, and she was a maid. Black families were not accepted there. In the 1920s there were cross burnings and probable KKK activity in Stottville. But not in Hudson where each ethnic group and race was accepted. However, in Hudson occasionally there were small racial conflicts. It was clearly understood that Warren Street was a safe zone for whites and Columbia Street was a safe zone for blacks.
In 1970 people thought the Black Panthers were coming into the community. A heavily attended meeting was held at the school to address this issue. Reverend Nixon said that blacks must be included in the education policy and the political system for progress. Jim thought that, although the Panthers protected black people, that this community didn’t need them to be there. He believes that in Hudson there is a friendship between the races. He stated that the churches should do more to combat racism.
Upper Columbia Street, also known as Diamond Street, was politically controlled by law enforcement who oversaw and allowed the corruption. Everyone in town knew what was going on in Hudson. In fact, Dylan’s Horse Parlor on Warren Street was actually the biggest gambling house in Hudson. Governor Dewey sent New York State law enforcement to Hudson to bring an end to the prostitution and gambling. Hudson law enforcement was caught in the “act” in the brothels during the raid. The downside of the raid was a loss of income for many people, especially the black population. There was a black run dry cleaner and a barber shop.
Although Black neighborhoods were not crime-filled, police didn’t want to go into them. People in those neighborhoods understood that they (the police) were the root of the problem of corruption, gambling, and prostitution in the black section of the city. Police also assumed that black people would just take care of themselves.
Jim Kerr went into the service from 1953 to 1957. Upon his return to Hudson, he saw a change in the population of the community. There was a migration from the South of black families and a migration of whites from New York City. The feeling of living in a close community was gone. The original residents of Hudson, both black and white, felt threatened by the newcomers.
Jim discussed the development of Bliss Towers and the other housing located on Front Street. He thinks it was a big mistake to build new housing, rather than to provide federal money to the owners of homes on Columbia and Front Streets in order to preserve the community as it existed. As an example, The General Worth Hotel was once a beautiful building full of history but it was torn down rather than restored and preserved.
The Shakers made sure there were no more slaves in the area, but instead the enslaved were released with a job, land, and a home. There seems to be a gap for blacks after WWI with less professions open to blacks.
Jim belongs to the Church of Latter Day Saints and he thinks a member of the Black Panthers is also a member. When he tried to do family history research, he found that in Columbia County if you were not a landowner, there is much less to find.
He believes that the LDS Church should be more responsible in teaching against racism. He recognizes that the family plays a part in teaching the children moral lessons.
During his military service Jim was stationed in northern Japan near the tip of Siberia. He noticed when he was in the military discrimination against blacks in Japan too.