Bill Hudson dies at 77; AP photographer who documented civil rights era

Associated Press

Bill Hudson, an Associated Press photographer whose searing images of the civil rights era documented police brutality and galvanized the public, died Thursday of congestive heart failure at a hospital in Jacksonville, Fla. He was 77.

Hudson was in Birmingham, Ala., when black demonstrators defied a city ban on protests in 1963 and police turned their dogs on marchers, and again in Selma, Ala., when fire hoses were officers’ weapon of choice.

Most enduring of Hudson’s portfolio is a May 3, 1963, image of an officer in dark sunglasses grabbing a black boy by his sweater as he lets a police dog bury its teeth into the youth’s stomach. The boy, Walter Gadsden, has his eyes lowered, with a look of passive calm.

The photograph appeared the next day above the fold in The Times, the New York Times and numerous other papers. Many came to see it as a force in galvanizing public opinion on behalf of the civil rights advocates.


In “Carry Me Home,” Diane McWhorter’s 2001 book about the civil rights era in Birmingham, the author argued that the photo helped move “international opinion to the side of the civil rights revolution.”

Phil Sandlin, who documented the civil rights movement for United Press International before joining AP, said Hudson looked out for him despite working for a competitor.

“He was probably the most feared photographer that I had to work against because he was very, very good,” Sandlin said. “He was very cool; he didn’t get rattled. He was a good person to work with despite the fact that we were competitors.”

Hudson was born Aug. 20, 1932, in Detroit and began his photographic career in the Army in 1949. He later shot photos for the Press-Register of Mobile, Ala., and the Chattanooga Times before joining the AP in Memphis in 1962. He left the AP in 1974, joining UPI.

Hudson, who lived in Ponte Vedra, Fla., is survived by his wife, Patricia, and a sister, Sharon Garrison of Laguna Beach.