John and Carol Zippert interview Dr. James D. Anderson at the Democrat office
Exclusive Interview with the Greene County Democrat
By: John Zippert, Dr. Carol P. Zippert and Dr. Monty Thornburg
Dr. James D. Anderson visited his hometown of Eutaw, Alabama on Friday, May 5, 2023, just before presenting the commencement address at his alma mater, Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the next day. The Co-Publishers of the Greene County Democrat and an associate had the honor of interviewing this native son of Greene County on his life and important intellectual view of the changes in Black education in the South over his life time.
Anderson attended Carver School in Eutaw, from 1950 to his graduation in 1962. At that time, the school had grades 1 to 12 and was a segregated school for Black students. “ We had great and dedicated Black teachers, who were genuinely concerned about their students. There was no social promotion and many students were failed and had to repeat grades until they mastered the subjects.”
Anderson lived on Kentuck, a neighborhood north of the Eutaw City Hall. “My mother worked as a cook for the Wilkes Banks family. We lived in a small shack out behind the Banks’ house.
Until my junior year in high school, I walked to school, with my brothers, about two miles. It was an adventure and we learned along the way. But you could not be late because the principal locked the school door at the start of the school day. We did get school buses, like the white children already had, in 1960.”
Anderson recounted a story that speaks to his growing up in poverty in Greene County. “My mother was very upset, this was when I was in high school, when Wilkes Banks told her that her son had a future after school as his ‘yardman’, taking care of mowing his grass. My mother had greater expectations for me and did not want me to aspire as a servant for white people.”
He was a good student and graduated as valedictorian of his class in 1962. Anderson had not made any college applications because he did not have funds to attend college. Herman Hughes, his math teacher at Carver, who was a graduate of Stillman, went to speak with the Dean of Stillman and arranged a full scholarship for him to attend.
“As I was preparing to make my graduation speech at Carver, Mr. Hughes and the principal called me aside and into the office. I was fearful that they were going to tell me that I could not graduate but instead they explained that I had been awarded a full scholarship to attend Stillman.
This was the start of my academic career,” said Anderson.
Mr. Hughes was part of the family of Judge and Alverta Hughes of Mantua community of Greene County. Hughes went on from teaching math in Greene County to get a Ph.D. in Computer Science and became a Professor at Michigan State University. Anderson later reconnected with Hughes, when both served on the Stillman College Board of Trustees. He said that Hughes was a great inspiration to him as a math teacher and peaked his interested in majoring in math at college.
There is a fountain on the Thomas Gilmore Courthouse Square honoring Ms. Alverta Hughes for her contributions to Greene County.Anderson attended Stillman College during the turbulent 1960’s. “ I was among the Stillman students that joined Rev. T. Y. Rogers, civil rights campaign in Tuscaloosa. Rogers was the pastor of First African Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa and a close colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. I was with Rogers on ‘Bloody Tuesday’ when police and deputized white citizens attacked peaceful marchers trying to hold the city to its promise not to have segregated water fountains and restroom facilities in a newly constructed Federal courthouse.
‘Bloody Tuesday’ in Tuscaloosa is often compared with ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Selma as milestones in the civil rights movement in Alabama.
Anderson graduated from Stillman College in 1966. He switched majors from mathematics to sociology. He went on to graduate school in social studies at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. In 1967, he graduated with a teaching certificate and went to teach social studies in Chicago.” I was in a bookstore in Chicago) and purchased a book on the history of Black education. It raised more questions for me than gave answers. I went back to a fellowship at the University of Illinois, to study and answer my questions about the history of Black education. I found my passion. I stumbled into the field where I have made a lifetime contribution.”
Educational Leader and Scholar
Dr. James D. Anderson is the Edward William and Jane Marr Gutsell Professor Emeritus and Dean Emeritus of the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His scholarly career has focused mainly on the history of American education with a specialization in the History of African American education.
His book, ‘The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935’, won the American Education Research Association (AERA) outstanding book award in 1990. The AERA is the largest academic research organization in the nation.
Anderson has also authored hundreds of articles in educational journals about the issues of Black education from Reconstruction to the present day.
Anderson has served as an expert witness in a series of federal desegregation and affirmative education cases, including Jenkins vs Missouri, Knight vs Alabama, Ayers vs Mississippi, Gratz vs Bollinger and Grutter vs Bollinger. He has also served as an advisor to documentaries and PBS television programs on the history of education and African American schools over the past twenty years.
At the interview, Anderson observed, “My book on Black education has
already been banned in Florida by the actions of Governor Ron Desantis and the Florida State Legislature. This is part of an effort by some states to take our nation backwards and to remove the truth about Black history and Black education from our schools and colleges.”
In October of 2014, Dr. James D. Anderson delivered the AERA’s Brown Lecture, an annual commemoration of the Supreme Court’s historic 1954 school desegregation decision. In his lecture, Anderson speaks to the equivalence in work toward equality in education with work toward voting rights in our nation. He suggests that the periods of greatest educational equality were matched with the greatest periods of voting rights and progress for democracy.
He cites the progress during the Reconstruction period, after Emancipation until the turn of the century, when Black people championed public education for all people. This was also a period when Black people were able to vote and did vote, especially in the South, where there were large numbers of Black people. When Reconstruction ended and southern states adopted Jim Crow legislation limiting the Black vote and imposing school segregation, democracy and social change were stifled and reversed.
Anderson specifically laments the failure to adopt the first versions of the 14th amendment which would have guaranteed a right to vote for all men.
“We do not have a Constitutional right to vote, which has made it once again possible to weaken and destroy the Voting Rights Act of 1965, by the Supreme Court in the Shelby vs Holder decision and voter suppression legislation in many states. In many areas, the local politicians are discouraging voters by telling us that our vote doesn’t count or will not be counted. We have to go back to door-to-door organizing to educate and mobilize Black people to vote in every election,” said Anderson.
As the interview ended, so Dr. Anderson could meet with relatives still living in Eutaw, he said that, “The Black teachers that I had at Carver, were truly dedicated and interested in the students. We need more Black teachers in our schools. Some young people go through their whole K to 12 educational experience, without seeing a single Black teacher. We need to change this.