PROFESSOR WILLIAM L. HUGHES
A Renaissance Man
William T. Hughes was a man of all things to his native hometown of Dublin. A man of humble beginnings, Professor Hughes was one the Emerald City’s most dedicated and respected citizens during the golden age of the city.
William Lafayette Hughes was born in Dublin, Georgia on May 8, 1873. His father, Pinkney Hughes, was a farmer and an adult slave at the beginning of the Civil War. His mother, Annie McLendon Hughes, was also born in 1842. William’s older siblings were Betsy, Susann, Fred, Laura and Eva. On his paternal side, William’s grandparents were the Rev. Allen and Mrs. Charlotte Hughes.
Little William attended the meager schools in the Dublin area. His parents were dirt poor, like many others, so William and his entire family had to work hard just to survive. By the late 1880s, William made it his life’s goal to attend college. In order to save enough money for tuition, the young man worked as much as he could. An intelligent student, William was hired as a teacher in the Dublin City School system in 1889, the first year of the separate city system. He was only sixteen years old.
With a sufficient sum in hand, William enrolled at Atlanta University. He attended four terms in that place, which he found, “helpful and inspiring.” After a year of reading law in the offices, Pledger, Johnson and Malone, Hughes studied for one year at Morris Brown to become an attorney. He completed his studies, but for some reason, never applied for admission to the bar.
Hughes returned to the classroom and was later elected Principal of the Colored School at Tennille, Georgia, where he served for seven years. His experience as a teacher and his superior intellect landed him the moniker of “Professor Hughes.”
In 1903, William Hughes was appointed by the Postmaster of Dublin as the city’s first Negro mail carrier. In those days, postmaster positions were political appointments. More black citizens were given positions of authority under the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt than at any other time in the South since the days of Reconstruction. Hughes served for many decades and was a popular figure on the streets of Dublin. But, his Federal duties did not extend only to delivering letters. Hughes served for a short term as a revenue agent and a gauger. He also operated a small store for a brief time.
Professor Hughes was known far and wide across the State of Georgia in the circles of fraternal organizations. From 1901 to 1903, Hughes served as the District Grand Master of the International Order of Odd Fellows. He remained active in that organization, serving many years as the Grand Auditor of the local district. Hughes, an articulate speaker, was always in demand to speak before civic, social and religious groups. Hughes was also active in the Knights of Phythias, an organization devoted to the promotion of cooperation and friendship between people of good will, through service to others.
Raised a member of the local Republican party, Professor Hughes was selected as a delegate to the National Convention of the Republican Party in 1940. In Philadelphia, Hughes and his fellow delegates nominated Wendell Wilkie, who unsuccessfully attempted to unseat President Franklin D. Roosevelt for a third term.
Though he retired from teaching at an early age, William Hughes was a life long advocate of education. He served as a trustee of the Central City College in Macon, Georgia. Hughes, believing that the Negro should support education morally and financially once said, “Let the colored man supplement the school fund in this Sate, and run the schools longer, pay the teachers more, and secure better teachers.” “This,” he added, “should apply to the South.” Mr. Hughes believed in reading. He was known to have one of the biggest and most attractive library of books in the city.
His father, Pinkney Hughes, was one of the first black citizens to advocate vocational education school for the colored students of Laurens County appeared in an advertisement in an 1886 issue of The Dublin Post. A.S. Dickson, President of the Dickson Institute, invited all of Dublin to join with him and Vice President Pinkney Hughes in a meeting to solicit funds for the school.
In 1917, the Central Colored People's Fair was incorporated by E.L. Hall, J.I. Clark, E.D. Newsome, Seaborn Daniels, Freeman Hill, C.B. Adams, H.N. Clark, M.H. O'Neal, W.A. Kemp, Thomas Mitchell, R.W. Thomas, Joe Hall and Frank Kilo. The second annual fair was held in November of 1917. E.D. Newsome was chairman of the event. Highlights of the fair included a parade, agricultural exhibits, the Ging Carnival Company, and a "Wild West" Show. Thirty one-hundred people showed up on Wednesday of the six-day fair.
In 1918, the Fair Association elected W.L. Hughes as President of the fair. Other fair officers were: E.L. Hall, Secretary; J.W. Dent, Secretary to Board of Directors; and E.D. Newsome, Manager. The board was composed of W.L. Hughes, J.W. Dent, E.L. Hall, W.A. Jenkins, E.J. Newsome, D.F. Kemp, W.T. Wood, Major Thomas, and E.D. Newsome. That year's fair was scheduled for November 4, 1918.
W.L. Hughes was active in supporting the soldiers and his country in World War I. He led the War Savings Stamps sale in the Negro community and was a leader in the Red Cross activities in Dublin.
Hughes and his wife, the former Miss Mary Barnes, were active members of the First African Baptist Church. He was often called upon to attend church and Sunday School conferences at both the state and national level. He married his bride, a daughter of Robert and Rebecca Barnes, on February 22, 1899.
William and Mary Hughes lived in their comfortable home at 423 South Jefferson Street in a neighborhood where many of Dublin’s most successful black citizens once lived. Their daughter Rebecca married Ernest Spurgeon Myers, Sr. Their son, Ernest, Jr., was a long time and respected educator in the Dublin city school system.