Journalist Karen Hudson Samuels remembered as curator of Black history and Detroit culture

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

As a child, Karen Hudson Samuels had a front row seat to racial segregation when she attended school in North Carolina.

Decades later, Mrs. Samuels would become a curator of Black History and culture in Detroit, helping to preserve buildings and other sites that played a rolein Detroit's African American history.

Mrs. Samuels, a former Detroit television anchor and historian, died suddenly Feb. 9. The cause of death has not yet been determined. She was 68.

Karen Hudson Samuels in 2018.

Funeral services were held Friday.

Earlier this month, Mrs. Samuels' efforts to preserve Detroit's Black History paid off when the WGPR-TV broadcast museum she founded and curated was designated to the National Register of Historic Places.

For the designation to come amid the national observance of Black History month made it even more special as Mrs. Samuels was tenacious in her efforts to save and preserve African American history and share it with everyone, said her family members and friends.

"She was doing what was right. She was doing what was just," said the Rev. Nicholas Hood III, pastor and senior minister of Plymouth United Church of Christ where Mrs. Samuels' and her husband, Clifford Samuels Jr., attended church. "I thank God for her life. I thank God for her legacy. I thank God for her love."

A former news anchor, Mrs. Samuels founded the WGPR Museum named after William V. Banks, founder of the radio and television station that is located on East Jefferson near downtown Detroit.

Mrs. Samuels' older sister, Dr. Margaret Hudson-Collins, remembered her as "a builder and pillar" of African American history and culture whose foundation was built as a fourth-generation college graduate in her family.

"We were very proud of that foundation," Dr. Hudson-Collins said at her sister's funeral Friday. "I will miss my sister."

At the time of her death, Mrs. Samuels was celebrating and promoting WGPR's national historic designation in interviews.

Born in Ann Arbor, Mrs. Samuels lived in Puerto Rico and also as a child in North Carolina, where she attended a segregated school and witnessed sit-down demonstrations as part of the modern civil rights movement for African Americans.

Most of Mrs. Samuel's teen years were spent in Kabul, Afghanistan, during the 1960s where her father served as the director of the English language program at Kabul University sponsored by Columbia University. 

While in Afghanistan, Mrs. Samuels had the opportunity to travel extensively in Europe, as well as to Pakistan, India, Iran and Hong Kong, and on a class trip to Russia (then Soviet Union).

 After returning to the United States, Mrs. Samuels completed her bachelor of arts degree in Afro-American studies and a master of science degree in instructional systems technology, both at Indiana University. 

While at Indiana University, Mrs. Samuel became involved in various campus cultural initiatives, including the IU Soul Review, IU Choir Ensemble and the IU Dance troupe, all part of the Afro-American Studies Department, which was conceived and directed by her father. 

Mrs. Samuels thought of herself as a newshound and that love helped steer her to a career in journalism and land her a job as an intern at the newly created Detroit television station WGPR TV Channel 62, created by Banks and supported by his organization, the International Free and Accepted Masons. The station would become the first in the United States owned and independently operated by African Americans.

The station featured a newscast, cultural programming, religious broadcasting and a popular teen dance show, "The Scene."

Mrs. Samuels was hired as WGPR's news anchor and she eventually became the station's news director. She also hosted "Black Film Showcase," a weekly segment highlighting historic Black films. WGPR-TV became the training ground and the launching pad for many young African Americans in pursuit of careers in the media.

Mrs. Samuels also worked for a time at Ford Motor Co. in the training and development division. 

Mrs. Samuels was an active member of several organizations including the National Association of Black Journalists.

"Karen was a journalist whose commitment to advocating for the advancement and inclusion of Black journalists was invaluable in Detroit and the state of Michigan," said Vincent D. McCraw, president of the Detroit chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists.

“She devoted her life to making sure Black journalists took advantage of all opportunities in the industry. Karen was a mentor to many. Her work to highlight Black journalists and Black-owned media in the state through her work as chair of the Black Historical Sites Committee of the Detroit Historical Society will be her lasting legacy.We at Detroit NABJ will miss the spirit, smile and joy of our dear friend.”

Mrs. Samuels was the chair of the Black Historic Sites Committee, which is affiliated with the Detroit Historical Museum, and was instrumental in getting historic designation for many of Detroit's sites. She was a longtime member of a multicultural book club, Las Companeras. 

In addition to her husband and sister, she is survived by another sister, Brendon Hudson. She was preceded in death by her parents, Dr. Herman and Katherine Hudson.  

Memorial tributes may be made to the WGPR-TV Historical Society, 3146 East Jefferson, Detroit, MI 48207.