Charles W. Anderson was the first Black legislator in the state of Kentucky, and a proven champion for the state’s Black residents during his tenure as a lawmaker. In January 1936, Anderson was sworn into the Kentucky House of Representatives, serving several terms and making an almost immediate impact the moment he began his service.
Anderson was born in 1907 in Louisville, Kentucky to a physician father and a schoolteacher mother. After graduating from Wilberforce University in 1927, he attended Howard University Law School and earned a law degree in 1931. Returning to his hometown, Anderson opened up his own practice.
The swearing-in ceremony took place on January 7, 1936, and right away Anderson, a Republican, began drafting legislation that directly benefited Black people. The first of the legislative moves he made was to help prospective students receive aid to attend college outside the state as integration was still a difficult road. There was only one all-Black college in the state at the time, and it couldn’t accommodate all of the students who wanted to attend.
Anderson also worked on a popular anti-lynching law, and was instrumental in drafting legislation that brought about changes to the state’s public school systems, in particular how they could aid Black students. He also worked on laws that helped Black residents gain access to public transportation.
Serving in the role until 1958, Anderson was also the longtime president of the state NAACP and was the president of the state’s National Negro Bar Association.
Gov. Albert Chandler awarded him the prestigious Kentucky Colonel’s commission, becoming the first Black person given the honor. In 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower selected Anderson as an alternate delegate to the United Nations.
The following year, Anderson’s life came to a tragic end in the town of Shelbyville after a train/car accident. His legacy lives on by way of the annual Charles W. Anderson Laureate Award, given to exceptional Kentuckians who positively benefit the state in a variety of ways. Anderson was survived by his second wife, Victoria and his two children, Charles III and Victoria.
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