Rhode Island Archival and Manuscript Collections Online

For Participating Institutions

Hugh Pearson papers (Ms.2011.006)

Brown University Library

Box A
Brown University
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: Manuscripts: 401-863-3723; University Archives: 401-863-2148
Email: Manuscripts: hay@brown.edu; University Archives: archives@brown.edu

Biographical note

Huey “Hugh” Lawrence Pearson, Jr. was born September 25, 1957 to Huey and Edith Pearson in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Hugh's sisters are Carol Pearson Stocchi, Jennifer Pearson, and Julie Pearson. During his boyhood Hugh was an avid reader. While in high school, he won the National Council of Teachers of English Achievement Award in Writing. He later wrote that as a teenager, the book The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam, about the decisions leading the United States into the Vietnam War, convinced him of the need to study harder so that he could attend an Ivy League school. After graduation from Wayne High School in Fort Wayne in 1975, he entered Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where he majored in biomedical ethics and wrote for the student newspaper. He graduated in 1979. He entered Meharry Medical College, but after two years of study decided against a medical career.

His adventurous spirit led him to endeavors that included the study of urban planning at the New School for Social Research in New York City and positions in urban development. However, he realized that his calling was writing. His first professional piece was published in New York's Newsday. In 1989, following a freelance career, Hugh moved to San Francisco, where he became an editor and writer for the Pacific News Service, a columnist for the San Francisco Weekly, and a commentator on KPFA radio in Berkeley. In the summer of 1989 the shooting of Black Panther Huey Newton in Oakland, California, rekindled a boyhood interest in Newton, leading to Pearson's first book The Shadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and the Price of Black Power in America. Published in 1994, the book was featured on the cover of the New York Times Book Review. Its success led to his appearance on the C-SPAN program "Booknotes" on August 21, 1994.

Pearson later took a positon on the editiorial staff of the Wall Street Journal. He remained in that position, writing about urban affairs, for two years. He then briefly became a columnist for the Village Voice. Pearson then resumed freelance writing and authored two additional books. Under the Knife: How a Wealthy Negro Surgeon Wielded Power in the Jim Crow South, published in 2000, was an homage to his great uncle Joseph Griffin, a highly accomplished doctor. His next book, When Harlem Nearly Killed King: The 1958 Stabbing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was published in 2002. Pearson also owned the website NYAge.net.

In the fall of 2000 he was invited numerous times to be a guest commentator on the Fox News Channel program "Hannity and Colmes." He appeared on the show more than six times from the 2000 to 2002. He was one of many political commentators during the 2000 presidential election featured on MSNBC TV. In February 2002, he was interviewed on the ABC TV program "Nightline" by reporter Michelle Martin regarding former Black Panther and SNCC leader Jamil Al-Amin (the former H. Rap Brown), who had just been convicted of the murder of an Atlanta police officer. On September 5, 2000 he appeared on the National Public Radio program "The Tavis Smiley Show" to discuss his book When Harlem Nearly Killed King.

In the spring of 2001 Pearson became a teaching fellow with the New York City Teaching Fellows program, teaching literature and writing to troubled youths in a middle school in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. The following year he returned to a career as an author and freelance journalist. He then became a monthly open editor contributor to the "Viewpoints" section of Newsday (the New York City edition). At the time of his death he was working on a biography of James Weldon Johnson, who wrote the lyrics for the Negro National Anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing."

In 1997, he became the father of twins, Francesca and Nathanel Pearson, with his partner Nancy Ross. Pearson was preceded in death by his mother, Edith Richardson Pearson; his maternal grandparents, Crawford and Mary Richardson, and his paternal grandparents, Nathan and Bessie Pearson. Hugh Pearson died in Brooklyn, New York, in August 2005.