Alonzo “Uncle Pete” Dudley Jr. had a hundred nieces and nephews, accumulated informally over the years on Greensboro’s Tate Street and its environs. A couple dozen of them gathered at New York Pizza on Monday evening with candles held high and their heads bowed down in prayer. Theresa Moore, Pete’s sister, said to “Kiss my candle.” Another wick ignited, along with the flickers that surrounded the patio.
Though everyone at the vigil came from many different backgrounds, that night they honored Uncle Pete as a family. Pete spent around 20 years as a homeless man and he met many people on the streets, mainly in the Tate Street area. Ricky Platt, Pete’s best friend of the past 19 years, told the crowd at the vigil about how they’d made a pact to be friends, about how Platt used to call him “Stank Stank” and how Pete thought of himself as a burden on others.
“I don’t know why,” Moore said.
Even with the weight of death hanging on everyone’s shoulders, someone in the group started to sing “Amazing Grace” and everyone joined in.
Throughout the event, Pete received praise for his contributions to the Greensboro community.
“He was the cheapest therapist I ever had,” said Vaughn Trent, a friend of Pete’s. “Just give him a beer and he’d talk to you.”
Pete died of health-related issues on April 4 in a Greensboro nursing home. He’d suffered a stroke months before and was in and out of the hospital before he died. He was 58 years old.
Before Uncle Pete’s passing, he and Platt were stuck together like two pieces of Velcro. They watched out for each other and often used a good cop/bad cop dichotomy. Pete played the part of the good cop, of course, while the more charismatic Platt would play the latter role. They knew the faces of nearly everyone who passed by the corner of Walker Avenue and Tate Street.
Mirtha Aranda, who helped organize the vigil, said Pete played the role of a protector. He helped many young women walk home after the bars had closed to make sure they got back safe.
As a child in the ’60s, Pete grew up with seven siblings in the North Carolina countryside after he’d moved there from Norfolk, Va.
“He was a good boy.” Moore said. “He’d play cowboys and Indians with his brother…. We had a rough life; learning didn’t come easy.” She went on to say that he loved to catch catfish, even when he wasn’t supposed to, digging up the bait and gutting the fish with his brother. But the Dudley family’s life wasn’t some pastoral dreamscape — far from it.
“We just tried to survive when we was kids.” Moore recalled. “We didn’t have a bathroom; we had an outhouse. We had a big, tin tub that we’d bathe in.” In some ways, that survivalist mentality carried over into Pete’s adulthood.
In the late ’90s, according to Moore, Pete became homeless after mixing in with the “wrong crowd.” He met Platt shortly thereafter and the two of them were friends ever since. They mostly stayed beneath bridges near downtown and, eventually, lived in a rooming house together.
Pete made some money in roofing after dropping out of high school, along with filling in sidewalks and driveways with concrete. Later, he mowed lawns for his sister and her neighbors. Even if they couldn’t pay him, he’d still help out in any way he could.
Alonzo Dudley Jr. was a stoic man. He lived a life wrought with adversity and yet he gave all he had to those he came in contact with. His soft-spoken nature contrasted with Ricky’s more outgoing personality. David Self, who ran a successful GoFundMe campaign for Pete’s cremation, said Pete’s dream was to “Do good by the people. If he did good for the community, the community would do good for him.”
Michelle Kennedy is an at-large member of the Greensboro City Council and the executive director of the Interactive Resource Center, which provides daytime services to people in Greensboro experiencing homelessness. Kennedy said in a text message that “Uncle Pete was part of the fabric of Tate Street and downtown. He will be missed by everyone who had the privilege of knowing him.”
After the vigil, tears dried on the cheeks of those who attended, and smiles crawled across their faces. Moore expressed her gratitude for all those who came to honor her late brother. The night went on and things slowly returned to how they normally operate on a Monday night. Delivery drivers came and went, the staff prepared more pizzas, and the customers moved out to the patio. The small shrine dedicated to Pete, however, stayed put.
Information about the GoFundMe can be found here.