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West Palm Beach woman a keeper of local black history

In September, we told you about the 90th birthday of Treasure Coast historian Ada Coats Williams. This month, we celebrate another: Ineria Elizabeth Hanley Hudnell, a walking time machine born Nov. 29, 1920.

In three decades as a schoolteacher, and in the more than three decades since she retired and became a widow, she served as a historian, bringing exhibits to venue after venue.

“When I started this, I couldn’t stop. And I’m still going with it,” Hudnell said in April 2009.

She said it was because she believed God had a plan for her. But it’s also because no one else would do it. She fought for years, without luck, for a permanent place to house the history of the area’s mostly invisible black community.

“I tell them all, ‘You don’t have to wait until Black History Month,’ ” she recalled once.

“We’re part of the city,” Hudnell said in an April 2009 interview. “And it should have been part of us, too.”

The Jacksonville native graduated from Florida A&M in 1943 and taught in Gifford.

She moved the next year to West Palm Beach and started at Washington Elementary School, then a wooden building. A year later, she switched to Roosevelt High. She would spend more than three decades there.

She married postal worker Arthur “Tiny” Hudnell and moved in 1959 to her home on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard, then just a dirt road called 12th Street.

At the time, West Palm Beach had two communities, each self-contained. They weren’t equal.

But, she said: “I felt it would get better in time. It had to.”

Arthur Hudnell died at 51 on his wife’s birthday in 1971. She retired around seven years later.

It was in the early 1980s, while she helped on a history of the Evergreen Cemetery, and later on the book Like A Mighty Banyan, that people began submitting photos and documents to her.

Now they stand stacked dozens deep along every inch of wall. Frames cover every bit of horizontal space as well, many holding photographs of her many grandchildren or friends who are now policemen, politicians or judges.

She said young people who see her exhibits are amazed that segregation once was the law — something she says is really good but also really bad.

“Many of them are still asking ‘why?’ And it’s hard to say,” she said.

hudnell-at-home
Ineria Hudnell at her Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard home, with some of the historical documents and artifacts from her collection. The portrait, center, on the wall was painted by one of her art students when she was a teacher. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

hudnell-graduation-1943
Graduation Day for Ineria Hudnell at Florida A&M College in 1943. See more photos of Ineria Hudnell and other local black icons in the Historic Palm Beach Black Icons photo gallery. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

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Posted in Black Palm Beach Blog and Eliot Kleinberg November 4, 2010 at 9:24 am.

3 comments

3 Replies

  1. Ann McCurdy Feb 17th 2011

    This is a wonderful story! I’ve seen Ms Hudnell’s collection one time when she brought it to my school for display. The people of Palm Beach County should be racing to get a building for all of this great history! I challenge the Fraternities & Soroities to research and find a person or persons that will invest in a building to house and display this rich historical display. We have to preserve our past.

  2. jacqueline haddocks Apr 5th 2013

    i would like to see pictures of the old industrial high school stundents, of the years 1935 36 37 38 39 and 1940. it would be a pleasure to see some of the teachers also. sincerely m.l. haddocks


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