Reasons for Naming
- First African American admitted to the University of South Carolina since Reconstruction
- Lifetime of public service work
Robert G. Anderson (1944-2009)
By Valinda W. Littlefield
Robert G. Anderson Jr. was born on June 12, 1944, in Greenville, South Carolina, and died on January 23, 2009, in New York.
Anderson graduated from Sterling High School in Greenville and enrolled at Atlanta University. He applied as a transfer student to the University of South Carolina. When Anderson received his official letter of acceptance on August 2, 1963, he became the first African American student admitted to the University in the 20th century. Anderson, Henrie Monteith, and James Solomon entered the university on September 11, 1963.1
Of the three, Anderson experienced the most painful harassment.
Coming to Carolina was the first experience of being impacted by racism. For many years I denied the impact of those experiences and those traumas. I remember walking across the Horseshoe, and there was a young man standing in the window with a broom stick. He said, “Nxxxxx, we’ve got you now.” This is a memory that never left me, a symbol of what all the experiences meant to me. I hope that if we have learned anything, that no individual can be made to experience that kind of pain, that kind of trauma. And I think as individuals, as Southerners, and as Americans, we should cut out this cancer called racism.2
Anderson endured racial epithets from white students and during the first month on campus white students took turns bouncing a basketball outside his dorm room at night.3 James Solomon remembered going to the Russell House to eat with Anderson and students “would stand to the side of a partly opened window and ask us if we had tails, or say something else like that.”4
Anderson’s life and career became a testament to public service, beginning with his work in desegregating the university and later serving a combat tour in Vietnam. After leaving military service, Anderson was a social worker in New York City. He helped Cuban refugees, worked with mothers and children in the Bureau of Child Welfare and ran an alcohol counseling program. He earned a professional social work degree from Hunter College. Retirement from social work in New York saw Anderson work in the Veterans Administration for 12 years.5 From his young adult years in Greenville to 2009, his life became a testament to the importance of giving back to the community.
In 1988, Anderson returned to campus for the African American Studies Program’s 25th Anniversary. Anderson, Monteith and Solomon were invited by the organizer of the event, Dr. Grace Jordan McFadden, a now-deceased professor of history and African American Studies and director of the program. Solomon recalled that while walking across the Horseshoe, Anderson stated “he was glad that he came back, that it had changed his perception of the University.” 6
2 Robert Anderson, as quoted in the November 21, 1988 Gamecock, republished in Carolina Voices, edited by C.B. Matalene and K.C. Reynolds, 2001, p. 179.
3 Lesesne, Henry H., A History of the University of South Carolina,1940-2000. University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, SC: 2002, p.148.
4 Oral Interview with James Solomon, Museum of Education, University of South Carolina archives.
5 Horn, Chris. “Robert Anderson, 1944-2009: Pioneering Student Dedicated Life to Helping Others,” USC Times, 2009.