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Tom Chaney: Margaret Vance Anderson, Glasgow native

Of Writers And Their Books: The Diligent Heart: Margaret Vance Anderson. Remembering Mrs. Anderson, who ten years after desegregation, wrote The Children of the South, a sensitive account of the desegregation of the Clinton, Tennessee, schools and the beginning of the long process of integration. This column first appeared 18 May 2008.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Atticking, Attaching, Attocking

By Tom Chaney

The Diligent Heart: Margaret Vance Anderson

On May 17, 1954 the United States Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. Board of Education that separate was not equal thus striking down the foundation of Jim Crow segregation.

Two years earlier Federal District Judge Robert L. Taylor had ruled in another case, McSwain vs. Anderson County, (Tennessee) that a suit to desegregate the schools in Clinton, Tennessee, was not justified and that Clinton segregation was not in violation of the law.

When the 1954 Brown decision was handed down, the attorneys for the plaintiffs in Clinton asked for and got a rehearing from Judge Taylor who reversed himself in McSwain and ordered the Clinton schools to be desegregated by the 1956/'57 school year. Thurgood Marshall was a plaintiff's attorney in both cases.

Thus it came to pass that although Arkansas governor Orville Faubus was to call out state troops to prevent desegregation in 1957, Governor Frank Clement of Tennessee had dispatched troops to make sure that Negro children could attend Clinton High School in the fall of 1956.

Registration of twelve African-American students took place without incident in Clinton on August 20, 1956.

Thus began a stormy time in Clinton as resistance from within and without began to build culminating in the 1958 bombing of the high school.

For the most part citizens of Clinton supported Principal David J. Brittain affirming that desegregation was "the law of the land."

And in the classroom the students, Negro and white, were fortunate indeed. For there was Glasgow, Kentucky, native Margaret Vance Anderson. In 1956 Mrs. Anderson taught business classes. Perceiving a growing need for counselors, she entered nearby University of Tennessee to take degrees in counseling and psychology. She then began a long career as counselor at the high school in Clinton.

Ten years after desegregation Mrs. Anderson took time off to write a sensitive account of the desegregation of the Clinton schools and the beginning of the long process of integration.

The book is called The Children of the South published in 1966 and reissued in a trade paper edition the following year.

Ralph McGill, editor of the Atlanta Constitution, wrote in the Foreword to The Children of the South that "This excellently written book will be remembered and kept when many other books coming out of the fever and ferment of the South will be forgotten."

Mrs. Anderson's little book is a straightforward account, imbued with her determination, of what segregation and its ending have done to children of the South.

She notes the absence of discussion of the issues of desegregation before the fact. "One white boy was asked as he got off the school bus one morning in 1956, 'How do you feel about going to school with Negroes?' His reply was typical: 'I never thought anything about it before. Nobody ever talked to me about it.'

"I could certainly understand the boy's statement because, in a sense," Mrs. Anderson wrote, "I felt the same way. I recalled that I had been through two state universities and taken any number of education courses and never once can I remember that a professor mentioned the remote possibility that one day those of us in training to be teachers would have Negro children in our classes."

Mrs. Anderson's experience on the front lines of desegregation and the long struggle for integration led her to write:

"The Negro child is different from other children, even other children of deprived backgrounds, because he has problems that are the product of a social order not of his making, or his forebears' . . . . The Negro child comes to us [teachers] an overburdened child, taxed in a hundred ways that make him old beyond his years. The road for him is three times a hard as for the average white child, even the poorest white child. Although the poor white child has much in common with the Negro child in that both have experienced deprivation, the Negro has handicaps which do not shackle a poor white child so noticeably. At every turn there is an obstacle, and forever and ever, the Negro child must ask himself, 'Why?' "

The Children of the South is replete with stories of individual Negro and white students who had success in overcoming the obstacles to education placed in their path. Regrettably, these are often matched by failures.

In Clinton these days there is a museum in the old Negro school, now the Green McAdoo Cultural Center, with testimony from many of the original Clinton Twelve. Running through the exhibits like sparkling gems are bits of testimony to the work and the compassion of Margaret Anderson.

The book is somewhat dated in terms of "politically correct" language these 42 years after publication. I have kept her reference to Negro rather than African-American in the hope of preserving some sense of a time now past.

But in all of that the vision and work of a great teacher shines through. As McGill notes in the first paragraph of the Foreword, Margaret Anderson kept her heart with all diligence, "for out of it are the issues of life."

Margaret Vance Anderson died April 28 at the age of ninety years. Born in Glasgow in 1917, she was returned there for burial.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2013-05-19 04:52:38
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Margaret Vance Anderson, Glasgow author. (1917-2008)

2013-05-19 - Glasgow, KY - Photo From Tom Chaney collection.
Margaret Vance Anderson, author of The Children of the South, died April 28, 2008. She is buried in Glasgow, KY, where she was born in 1917.

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