hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News September 2018


A political alliance that broke a racial barrier

Maury Thompson


Newspaper clippings in the Addison B. Colvin scrapbooks at Crandall Public Library’s Folklife Center tell the story of Charles W. Anderson, a civil rights and political activist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who had connections to Glens Falls and Saratoga Springs.
Anderson was a spirited orator who would later be called the “Negro Moses of the South” and “the colored Demosthenes.”

Colvin, a businessman from Glens Falls, was elected state treasurer in New York in 1893. Upon taking office in 1894, he appointed Anderson as his secretary. It was a rare entry into government work for a black man in that era.

Colored American, a national magazine published in Washington, D.C., endorsed Colvin for re-election to a second two-year term in 1895, calling his decision to hire Anderson an example of “courage and manliness.”

But there was overt racism even among those who provided Anderson the opportunity to serve.
Colvin, among his other roles in business, was publisher of a local daily newspaper, The Glens Falls Times and Messenger. In a 1921 interview with the paper, he recalled that Republican boss Thomas C. Platt had recommended Anderson for the job just after the 1893 election.

“He said to me thus: … ‘Charlie is black, but his services to the party and his intelligence entitle him to recognition,’” the paper reported.

Colvin said he responded: “Anderson’s color is black, but I regard him as one of the whitest men I know.”

Regardless, Anderson and Colvin became longtime political comrades, and their association carried over to Colvin’s hometown.

“Mr. Anderson has numerous friends in Glens Falls, as well as in other parts of the state,” The Plattsburgh Sentinel reported on March 7, 1902.

Anderson lived in New York City, but his loosely defined duties on Colvin’s staff provided him with plenty of time to travel the state and nation making speeches -- and to lobby state legislators for Republican-favored legislation.

In 1895, Anderson helped to push through state legislation backed by Gov. Levi Morton to make it a misdemeanor crime for restaurants, hotels, barbershops and Turkish baths to refuse to serve a patron based on race.

Morton at the time was considering running for president. The Vermont-born politician had previously served as vice president under Benjamin Harrison from 1889-93.

Once the anti-discrimination law was signed, Anderson and two other black men tested it on June 18, 1895, visiting three restaurants in New York’s Tenderloin district: Delmonico’s, the Hotel Bartholdi and the Continental Hotel.

All three restaurants served the men. But Anderson considered seeking prosecution against several bathhouses that put out “All Full” signs when the men sought admission later that afternoon.

“I’ve had all I want to eat for one day, and I guess I’ll let somebody else try to make a test case under the law,” Anderson told reporters, according to a June 19, 1895, report in the Commercial Gazette of New York City.

Anderson was co-founder and the first president of the Afro-American Republican Organization of New York State, which was established in August 1895 at Saratoga Springs.

The group’s organizing convention, held at Saratoga Springs City Hall, adopted a resolution to advocate for equal access for all races to government jobs.

Richard Kelly of Troy spoke at length about W.G. Harris, a black military veteran who was hired to work as an orderly at the state Capitol, but who, when he reported for the job, was assigned instead to be a porter, allegedly because of his race, according to an Aug. 21, 1895, report in The Arcadian Weekly Gazette of Newark, N.Y.

The New York Times reported on Aug. 16, 1905, that 50 New York City delegates to the convention agreed not to use the convention as an opportunity to test the state’s new anti-discrimination law.

“They have received an intimation in advance that they are not wanted as guests at the large hotels on Saratoga’s Broadway, and Secretary Simms says that they have agreed not to embarrass the hotels, but will seek accommodation with people of their own race,” the Times reported.

Anderson was born April 28, 1866, in Oxford, Ohio and moved to New York City in 1886, according to a biographical profile on BlackPast.org. He attended Spencerian Business College in Cleveland and the Berlitz School of Language in Worcester, Mass.

He was considered an expert on art and the music of Richard Wagner, according to a March 20, 1896, report in The New York Sun.

Anderson left his position in the state treasurer’s office in April 1898, as Colvin was nearing the end of his second term and did not plan to seek re-election.

Anderson worked in various state and federal government positions for the rest of his career and worked with Booker T. Washington to advocate for civil rights.

He tested the waters in preparation for seeking New York City area congressional seats in 1891, 1896 and 1904. But each time, he decided against running for office.

Anderson remained active in Republican politics, however, and was a frequent stump speaker for state and national candidates. In 1908, he was the first black man to be part of New York’s delegation to a Republican National Convention.

Anderson, an alternate delegate, was initially pledged to New York Gov. Charles Evans Hughes, a Glens Falls native, but he supported William Howard Taft after Hughes dropped out of the race, The Westfield Republican of Chautauqua County reported on April 15, 1908.

In 1912, Anderson was back at the Republican National Convention as an alternate delegate and a point person for the Taft re-election campaign. Anderson worked the convention floor to build support for Taft among black delegates from the South, The New York Sun reported on June 15, 1912.

Anderson’s work helped Taft fend off a tough nomination challenge from Theodore Roosevelt, the former president who had preceded Taft in office. After losing the nomination fight at the 1912 convention, Roosevelt broke from the GOP and ran for president on the Progressive Party line. The split between Roosevelt and Taft helped Democrat Woodrow Wilson carry 40 states and win the presidency.


Maury Thompson retired in 2017 after 21 years as a reporter for The Post-Star of Glens Falls. He now is a freelance writer focusing on the history of politics, labor and media in the region.