Greensboro's African American Community Newspaper since 1967

Dr. Joe L. Dudley Sr., founder of Dudley Products, dies at age 86

His Excellency, Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, Henry Frye, justice on the N.C. Supreme Court and Dr. Joe Louis Dudley, president and founder of Dudley Products. Peacemaker Archives.

“I am, I can and I will!”

And with those words, humanitarian Dr. Joseph built a successful hair care products business empire that has thrived for more than 50 years. He once said that his strong belief in Jesus Christ saw him through many challenges.

On Thursday, Feb. 8th, Joe L. Dudley, age 86, died peacefully at his home in Kernersville, leaving behind a wife and three adult children who are living out his legacy of excellence and achievement, and a company that is known around the world for its resilience and top place in the annals of Black business history.

Joseph Louis Dudley Sr.

May 9, 1937 - February 8, 2024
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of our hero, Dr. Joe L. Dudley Sr.,” the family said in a statement. “Our hearts are broken. However, we smile knowing the thousands of lives that he touched and changed. Heaven has gained a dynamic salesperson and humanitarian. We love you!”

“He was an outstanding businessman and human being,” his son, Joe Dudley Jr., wrote about his father on Facebook.

“An underdog himself, he always believed in everyone’s potential for success especially if you were willing to work hard, strive diligently and walk by faith. My family and I carry on his legacy with love and commitment to these principles.”

It was March 13, 2019, when this reporter drove to Dr. Dudley’s mansion in Kernersville to interview him on tape about his legacy. The assignment was for a proposed film that never got off the ground, but meeting this gracious and welcoming man, beloved institution of wisdom and knowledge, and legendary figure of true Black history, was an experience I will never forget.

The story of Joseph Louis Dudley Sr. is one of inspiration, especially for African Americans.

Born in Aurora, N.C. in 1937 in a three-bedroom farmhouse, the fifth of eleven children born to Gilmer and Clara Dudley, young Joseph failed the first grade and was held back, was labeled mentally retarded, and suffered a speech impediment.

“Nine of us slept in one room,” Dudley recalled in 2019. He remembered praying as a child, “Lord if you help me, I promise I will help other people.”

His mother, Clara, believed in him, pushing Joseph to overcome those obstacles by telling him, “Prove them wrong, Joe,” and helping him become a man who would remake himself into an extraordinary success story.

In 1957 at the age of 20, young Joe Dudley, while a student at N.C A&T College in Greensboro, invested $10 to purchase a sales kit and begin selling Black-owned Fuller Products door-to-door. It was how he paid for his college classes. He eventually graduated from N.C. A&T with a degree in business administration.

From 1967 through 2008, that door-to-door Fuller Products Distributorship by Joe Dudley would mushroom into the Dudley Haircare Products Company, and with his wife, Eunice (whom he had met in New York selling door-to-door, and married in 1961), moved to Greensboro. Dudley Products was listed in the top 50 in Black Enterprise Magazine’s Top 100 Black Owned Businesses.

During our interview, Dudley credited the mentorship of Fuller Products founder, S.B. Fuller for “changing his life.” In his youth, Fuller had many of the same struggles young Dudley had, including also being branded mentally retarded. Fuller ultimately became one of the richest Black men in America during his time.

“Mr. Fuller helped me to save time,” Dudley said. “That’s one of the great values of mentorship - pointing you in the right direction, and helping you become successful. It helps save time, save money and save frustration.”

Dudley Products was started in the kitchen of the Dudley’s home, and grew into the largest Black manufacturing plant between Washington D.C. and Atlanta, Ga. The company, from its inception, provided opportunity for the downtrodden, college students and those needing an opportunity to prove themselves.

“It’s so exciting to help people, and watch them grow, and become successful.“ he said in 2019. “ need to become job-makers.”

During this time, the Dudley Beauty School System was created with strategically located schools all over the country and the world, led by Dudley Cosmetology University in Kernersville.

The company has trained more than 30,000 cosmologists all over the world, something Dudley said he was most proud of, as well as expanded its cosmetics line and beauty salons. Joe Dudley became a millionaire by the time he reached age 40. Dudley became a household name in the Black community along with Ebony and Johnson Products.

Joe Dudley Sr. has been the recipient of numerous awards during his tenure, including The Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award from Pres. Barack Obama, the Maya Angelou Tribute to Achievement Award, and Inc. Magazine’s North Carolina Master Entrepreneur Award, among others. Soon he was taking pictures with world leaders like South African Pres. Nelson Mandela and the Zimbabwean Pres. Robert Mugabe, who traveled to North Carolina to visit the Dudleys and Dudley Products.

The tremendous work of the Dudleys was noted in the 2009 Chris Rock documentary, “Good Hair” about the Black hair care industry.

It was also during this time that Joe Dudley used his success to become a national and internationally renowned speaker. This was also a period during which Dudley literally saved the life of nationally syndicated Black radio talk show host Tom Pope, who had gone bankrupt. Dudley helped save Pope’s business and stay on the air, without asking for a dime in return.

“Tom had the right spirit, the right heart. So we talked about it, and we,” Dudley recalls. In his autobiography, From Incognito Gangster to God: An American Story of Redemption and Restoration, Tom Pope thanked the Dudleys for helping him when he was “bruised and broken.”

Dudley also wrote his book Walking by Faith: I AM, I CAN AND I WILL, detailing some of his principles for success, such as change your attitude to change your life; accept challenge in faith; Don’t add loss to loss; and make a difference in the world.

“So many lives have changed, because I wrote that book,” Dudley said, noting how one man serving time in prison read his book, and became a millionaire when he got out.

In June 2008, Dudley’s daughter, Ursula Dudley Oglesby, took over the day-to-day responsibilities of the business as president, and thus was born Dudley Beauty Corp. LLC. Today Dudley Beauty Corp. in High Point sells 400 hair care and cosmetology products in the U.S. and 18 countries.

“Loving God is loving people,” Dudley said.

Homegoing services for Joseph Louis Dudley Sr. will be as follows:

Sunday, Feb. 18

Wake - 4 p.m. to 6 p.m at Providence Baptist Church; 1106 Tuscaloosa St.; Greensboro, 27406.

Monday, Feb. 19

Visitation - 8:30 a.m. at Mount Zion Baptist Church; 1301 Alamance Church Rd; Greensboro, 27406

Funeral Service - 10 a.m. at Mount Zion Baptist Church; 1301 Alamance Church Road; Greensboro 27406.

Interment - 2 p.m. at Guilford Memorial Park; 6000 High Point

Road; Greensboro, 27407.

Please wear navy blue in honor of Dr. Joe Louis Dudley Sr.