Historical Marker #1964 in Louisville notes the political career of Charles W. Anderson, Jr., the first African American elected to a Southern state legislature in the twentieth century.
During the Reconstruction era, a number of African Americans held elected positions in Southern state legislatures. Some even obtained seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. After Reconstruction and into the early twentieth century, when the former slave states began to write segregationist measures into their laws, African American rights were curbed and those elected positions became scarcer. In 1935, however, Kentuckian Charles Anderson became the first elected officer to sit in a Southern state legislature since Reconstruction.
Anderson was born in Louisville in 1907 to Dr. Charles W. and Tabetha Anderson. Charles attended what is now Kentucky State University in Frankfort and then graduated from Wilberforce University in Ohio. He continued his education with a law degree from Howard University in Washington D.C. in 1931. Two years later, Anderson returned to Kentucky and was admitted to the bar.
In 1935, after establishing a successful law practice in Louisville, Anderson ran as a Republican for the state legislature. He won and immediately began working to improve educational opportunities and better access to public facilities for Kentucky's African Americans. Another major political achievement for Anderson was the repeal of Kentucky’s public hanging law. Anderson resigned his seat in 1946 to become the assistant commonwealth attorney for the 30th Judicial District.
Beginning in 1943, Anderson served two terms as the president of the National Negro Bar Association. In the 1950s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Anderson as an alternate delegate to the United Nations. He was also elected as the president of the Louisville National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). When Kentucky Governor Albert "Happy" Chandler provided Anderson with a Kentucky Colonel’s commission, he was the first black Kentuckian to receive that honor.
Tragically, Anderson died in 1960 in automobile/train accident in Shelbyville, Kentucky. However, his example led other African Americans to follow his footsteps and pursue elected public offices in an effort to improve the state for all of its citizens.