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Meet Charles W. Anderson, Kentucky’s First Black Legislator

Meet Charles W. Anderson, Kentucky’s First Black Legislator

He left an enduring legacy!

Charles W. Anderson was born May 26, 1907 in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of Dr. Charles W. and Tabetha Murphy Anderson, the NKAA Database reports. He attended undergrad at Kentucky State College and Wilberforce University before receiving his law degree from Howard University School of Law, being admitted to the Kentucky Bar in 1933 and launching his own practice in his hometown of Louisville. He eventually got into politics, running for a seat in the House of Representatives and making history as the first African-American Kentucky legislator after his 1935 election victory as a Republican candidate against opponents Charles E. Tucker, Rev. Ernest Grundy, Dr. Richard P. Beckman, James D. Bailey, and Lee. L. Brown. 

According to the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, Anderson was the first Black lawmaker since Reconstruction. He served six terms in the House and worked on a number of early Civil Rights measures, including the Anderson-Mayer State Aid Act which sought to provide $7500 in annual funding for African-Americans looking to pursue a higher education out of state. Since Kentucky’s segregated college system couldn’t accommodate all of the Black students at one state school, it seemed like a very viable option. He also worked on a bill that improved public school facilities and gave $100 in an education and travel fund for each Black student who was forced to travel outside of their county to attend a segregated school, reports. 



Anderson worked on the repeal of Kentucky’s public lynching law and served as longtime president of the Louisville chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1940, he received the Lincoln Institute Key for his service to the Black community and served as President of the National Negro Bar Association in Kentucky. Anderson also served as the Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney for Jefferson County in 1946, making history as the first Black lawyer to hold such a title in the South. In 1959, he was appointed as an alternate delegate to the United Nations by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The beloved politician was tragically killed on June 19, 1960 in a train car accident in Shelbyville, Kentucky, leaving to mourn his wife, Victoria McCall Anderson, and two children, Charles III and Victoria.

In a state still beset by race-based tragedies like the murder of Breonna Taylor, it is important to remember the work of people like Anderson who fought for reform and civil rights in Kentucky. It was the work of Anderson and other history-making Kentucky natives like Alice Allison Dunnigan, who made history in 1948 as the first Black woman to receive press credentials to cover the White House, Muhammad Ali, the first boxer to win the world heavyweight championship on multiple occasions, and Saint Elmo Brady, the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States that contributed to widespread change and opportunities for African-Americans. 

Nearly six decades after Anderson’s impact, his legacy and work were still beneficial to the state of Kentucky, with Attica Scott making history as Kentucky's first African-American woman legislator in almost 20 years when she won the primary election for Kentucky's 41st House District back in March 2017. Scott previously remarked that the most beautiful part of her victorious election was seeing a picture of her daughter watching her get sworn in, proof that the next generation of natives from The Bluegrass State will be just fine. 

We thank Mr. Anderson for all of his contributions to freedom and honor his life’s work. Because of him, we can!

Meet Charles W. Anderson, Kentucky’s first Black legislator. Photo Courtesy of Black America Web