Cynthia May Hudgins was born in Coronado and grew up there in the 1920s and 1930s. The Hudginses had moved to Coronado from Logan Heights. Her grandfather, Amos Hudgins, was in the 2nd Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War. Cynthia May knows little about her grandparents, other than that Amos had a Cherokee mother and Grandma Cynthia was the daughter of an Englishman and a slave. There had been a picture of her Cherokee great-grandmother, but Cynthia May’s father had thrown it out.
On April 25, 2000, I conducted an oral-history inter-view with Cynthia May Hudgins. Her good friend’s daughter was present at the interview. Cynthia begins by telling me:
My great-grandfather was probably mulatto. Grandpa Amos was very light but had Negro features. Grandma Cynthia’s father was English— her mother was perhaps mulatto as well. Grandma Cynthia was light brown and did not have Negro features. Both my grandparents spoke perfect English as well — no patois. Their son, my father, was a member of the old East End Gang and attended the old Lowell School in South San Diego.
While I am of black ancestry, both my father and I appeared, and could have passed for, white. For many years I did. This is the reason I could not as a child understand why I was treated differently from the other children, by them and by my teachers. My Scottish mother left me to live with my grandmother. Coronado was a small town in the ’20s and ’30s, so everyone knew I was “colored” except me. I didn’t know until I was 11 years old and my friend told me about the one-drop-of-black-blood rule.
Her mother was the only mother who let her child be friends with me, until I was in junior high and another woman let me associate with her kids and come into her house — when I went to live with my parents after my grandma’s death. The Tsuneyoshis lived on our block and Fusako became a friend. In high school, another woman let her daughter be friends with me too.
My grandparents were married at Richmond, Ray County, Missouri, on June 19, 1874, by John W. Anderson, minister of the Methodist-Episcopal church. My grandfather signed up for the Civil War, giving his credentials as “farmer.” That’s all I know. And he was only just 18 years old or so.
This is the story that I read at a Memorial Day thing. I saw it just this afternoon when I was going through this stuff. Amos Hudgins was born in Missouri in 1844. Joined the 2nd Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry, Company K, when he was 18 years old. Fought mostly in Arkansas. Mustered out in Kansas.
Fought admirably. After the war went back to Kansas. Starving. Ragged. Barefoot. They ate the mules’ food, and then ate the mules. Amos was wounded by a mini ball in the left knee. Married Cynthia Ann Renfro in Fay County, Missouri, in 1874.
Cynthia was born in Maysville, Kentucky. She was a slave until age 12. Lived in Topeka. He rejoined the Army, 7th Cavalry, as a Buffalo Hunter and Scout, with Reno. Grandma had a millinery store — my mother told me that. Moved to San Diego County in 1887. My father was born in 1891 in Logan Heights.
My grandfather was hauling for a time with a team and wagon. He homesteaded in the El Cajon Valley. Homesteading didn’t work out. That was when they came out here. He couldn’t handle it, because of the knee. So he came into town with his team and wagon. He was offered the corner of Fifth and Broadway, where Walker Scott was, in exchange for the wagon and team, but he couldn’t do it. He was a teamster — it was his livelihood.
So then he went off up to the Yukon, to the Gold Rush. He came back with three nuggets. My grandmother did hairdressing and sewing for ladies while he was gone. Probably straightening hair. She was very talented. They moved to Coronado in 1905 — maybe 1903?
He came back to San Diego and joined the California Naval Militia, because of the Spanish-American War. He was one of the three founders of the Masonic Fidelity Lodge No. 10,1903. He was senior steward. Two members told me he was senior steward. In 1905, he was in Arizona, working on the San Diego and Arizona Railroad track.
He was barbering when Poppa was a little boy, but that probably didn’t last too long. Poppa used to remember being in his shop and seeing the important men of the day come in — you know, Father Horton and some of those other people, shop owners and wealthy men.
The shop was around the corner from the old Golden Lion restaurant, between Fourth and Fifth on Broadway. The barbershop was on E Street, between Fourth and Fifth. I thought he might have owned it, but he just owned a chair in it, because the shop was William’s shop.
In 1905, a Mexican hurricane came up. There was beach down along the oceanfront in Coronado, just like there is now. This Mexican hurricane came up and washed the beach all out. And the houses all along the oceanfront were inundated with water. Some of them were moved to other locations. Dr. Kneedler’s house was moved from there to A Street.
So then the San Diego and Arizona Company decided to put in this seawall, and that was what my grandfather was working on. They were putting in these great rocks with horse and wagon. And one of those fell off the wagon and fell on my grandfather. The horse moved, and the rock rolled off and fell on him. It crippled him for life — he was really wrecked with this one, because he never worked again. As I remember, he was bent over and walked with a cane.
The beach washed back in again, because they dredged the bay to let the big ships come in. And they dumped the sand off Coronado. It washed in, so now we have a seawall and a beach.
Read Part 1: None Darker Than Me