Former WKU Professor and Civil Rights Activist Dies at 83

Amelia Hicks

Alan Anderson, former head of the Department of Philosophy and Religion and avid civil rights activist, died on Sept. 3, according to his obituary.

Anderson passed away at 83 from congestive heart failure and other illnesses, said Paula Williams, department office associate and long-time colleague of Anderson.

Born in Oklahoma in 1934, Anderson graduated from Knox College with a bachelor’s of the arts degree in philosophy, later receiving a bachelor’s of divinity in theology and a master’s in social ethics at the University of Chicago, according to his obituary.

While in Chicago, Anderson became involved in the civil rights Movement. Martin Luther King Jr. invited him to join a nonviolent protest in Albany, Georgia, in 1962. Anderson and his fellow protesters were arrested for disturbing the peace while praying for civil rights on the steps of city hall, according to a Knox College profile.

Anderson went on to work with King again during the freedom movement from 1965-1967. He also taught the first courses on racial justice in Chicago and at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, according to the Knox College piece.

He later co-authored a book titled “Confronting the Color Line: The Broken Promise of the civil rights Movement,” which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in history in 1988. He received the Alumni Achievement Award from Knox College in 2008 for his achievement in social rights.

Anderson arrived at WKU in 1985 to head the Department of Philosophy and Religion, Williams said. He taught courses in social ethics and racial justice, according to his website.

“He very much breathed equality and social justice,” said Jeffrey Samuels, the current Philosophy and Religion interim department head.

Samuels said he worked with Anderson for 11 years. During that time, he said, Anderson’s passion for social justice was evident in his teaching and work in the community. Anderson worked with students to examine and potentially resolve the existing color line in Bowling Green, Samuels said.

Anderson worked to uncover racism through surveys and data collections.

“He believed that if we gathered enough data, the numbers would speak for themselves,” Samuels said.

Samuels recalled Anderson’s humility and subtlety when it came to his life’s work. He also remembered Anderson throwing out a Jolly Rancher to students in class whenever they answered a question correctly.

Michael Seidler, philosophy professor and former colleague of Anderson, joined the department the year after Anderson. Anderson worked well to foster younger faculty and support them in their work, Seidler said.

Anderson was known for “liking the good life,” said Seidler. He liked to eat and drink well along with entertaining friends and family.

Anderson’s distinct humor also stood out in to Seidler, who recalled his borderline jokes that either hit or miss.

“Sometimes you didn’t know how to respond,” Seidler said. “He liked to walk that line.”

Anderson retired from the university in 2012, according to Williams. His legacy lives on as students continue his work in uncovering racism and fighting for social justice.

Services will be held on Sept. 15 at 3 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church, according to his obituary. In lieu of flowers, donations to the American Civil Liberties Union, or Cumberland Heights, a nonprofit drug and alcohol addiction resource in Nashville are appreciated.

Reporter Amelia Hicks can be reached at 270-745-0655 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @ameliahicks852.