Charles W. Anderson, Jr.

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.

Images

Charles W. Anderson, Jr.

Charles W. Anderson, Jr.

Charles W. Anderson, Jr., was the first African American state legislator elected in the 20th century. Courtesy of the Kentucky Human Rights Commission. View File Details Page

Kentucky State Capitol

Kentucky State Capitol

Charles W. Anderson served in the state legislature in Frankfort. This image shows the state capitol building in 1920, about 15 years before Anderson was elected to this first term of office. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Governor Chandler

Governor Chandler

Governor Albert "Happy" Chandler commissioned Charles Anderson as the first African American Kentucky Colonel. Chandler is shown here signing a proclamation opening up the Kentucky state police to African Americans. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Mayo-Underwood High School

Mayo-Underwood High School

One of Charles Anderson's legislative accomplishments was a bill to allow married women to teach. This opened up more economic opportunities for women. Shown here are graduates from Mayo-Underwood High School in Frankfort. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Jackson Hall - Kentucky State University

Jackson Hall - Kentucky State University

Anderson attended what is now Kentucky State University before graduating from Wilberforce University in Ohio. Jackson Hall at Kentucky State University is shown in this image. Photograph courtesy of Stuart Sanders. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Tim Talbott, “Charles W. Anderson, Jr.,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed June 22, 2017, http://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/297.

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