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Camden man recalls hearing King’s speeches

Anderson attended rallies in Washington, D.C.

Posted: January 17, 2015 11:52 a.m.
Updated: January 19, 2015 1:00 a.m.
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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. powerfully and famously used his words to break down racial barriers. Today, Americans across the country are remembering King’s words and celebrating the life of a man who played perhaps the most prominent role in the civil rights movement. King drew thousands of people -- most famously through marches -- from different racial and religious backgrounds together to peacefully protest inequality.

One of those people was Camden’s Clifton H. Anderson who said he had the privilege to hear King speak while in his 20s and living in Washington, D.C. Anderson said he heard King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” on the National Mall at the Lincoln Memorial. He said the presentation which had a major impact on him, encouraged him to give back to his community and develop a deep understanding of himself.

“It was the beginning of a new era of sensitivity and inclusion,” Anderson said.

Anderson grew up in Camden in the late 1940s and ’50s during segregation. He attended Boylan-Haven-Mather Academy and was a member of Trinity Methodist Church, now Camden First United Methodist. He said some of his most memorable moments while living in Camden are the diverse faculty at Mather, which Anderson said was had an integrated staff before Camden, and the activeness his church congregation had in the civil rights movement.

“We were proactive and we’d ask God to look over our people,” Anderson said. “We went to church at night to sing hymns to gain power from God. Church was a safe haven”

Anderson moved away from Camden when he went to Claflin University to pursue a degree. After graduating from in 1959, he went to Washington, D.C., where he attended graduate school at Howard University.

Anderson said King’s speech was well-attended by people who appeared to be in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

“It was extremely enriching and it focused us as young people,” Anderson said.

Anderson said while living and working in D.C. and attending the speech, he came away with the following:

“Even though segregation existed, it was not an obstacle for us to succeed in life,” Anderson said. “There was a sense of discipline and a can-do spirit instilled in us by the teachers and parents. The teachers may have had hand-me-down or handmade material, but they settled for nothing but the best from the students. If you fail, we have failed to instill in you some of the principles that will fortify you against defeat. If you succeed, you will bring glory and honor to your institution. The teachers were interested in everybody’s success and took a personal pride in seeing you do that.”

Anderson also said King’s speeches encouraged him to return to Camden and he did in 1989. He reinserted himself back into his church and was encouraged further by his pastor to give back to his community. Anderson did so by working as a counselor at the Continuous Learning Center (CLC) and serving on several committees to preserve the history of Camden and make it a better place.

Anderson’s commitment to his community led to his being inducted into Claflin University’s hall of fame for community service, and he was the first African-American man to receive the volunteer of the year award for the state of South Carolina. He not only credits his family for instilling hard work him to be successful, but Anderson also credits King for his empowering words.

“(King’s) speech left me with the idea that a humble childhood can lead to an admirable and fulfilling adulthood of professional and civic success,” Anderson said.

Anderson went back to D.C. in 2013 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of King’s speech.

Anderson continues his civic success by being a member on the board for the Price House and by being a driving force behind Camden’s Black History Month observance each year, which he has been a part of for more than 25 years.

 

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