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Feb. 4, 2015

William G. Anderson: Freedom of Equality

William G. Anderson is a physician and faculty member in the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine. He was a founder of the Albany Movement, a seminal struggle for civil rights in Georgia in the 1960s, and the first African American to have been elected national president of the American Osteopathic Association. The COM lecture series, “Slavery to Freedom” was recently renamed the “Dr. William G. Anderson Lecture Series: Slavery to Freedom” in his honor.

Feb. 4, 2015

When I grew up in Americus, Georgia, near the time of the Great Depression, the only relationship between blacks and whites was transactional: employer-employee, merchant-customer. There was no such thing as black police or fire fighters or public officials. Blacks did not register to vote, hold public office, nor did they complain about it.  We were told, “Voting is white folks’ business, and ain’t nothing for you colored folks to be concerned about.”

My father was called “boy,” my mother “girl.” We sat in the third balcony at the theatre, couldn’t drink from water fountains, eat in restaurants, stay in motels or use the restrooms when we traveled.  Our school, segregated, featured second-hand outdated texts, when we had books at all. We couldn’t see white doctors or be treated in white hospitals and black physicians were rarer than hen’s teeth.

It has been a grand journey for me to look back at my beginnings and to see where life has taken me. I’ve been a radio entertainer, educator, mortician, seaman in the Navy, physician and civil rights activist.  The last two roles – aside from my role as a husband, father and grandfather – were the most important. They were the two roles that I hadn’t exactly chosen, and thrust me into unexpected national positions of leadership. 

I didn’t foresee that I would lead the seminal Albany Movement in Georgia and that my wife’s childhood neighbor, Martin Luther King Jr., and my college classmate, Ralph David Abernathy, would sit at the picnic table in my back yard and join forces to change the world. I didn’t see that when I applied to osteopathic medical school, on faith, having no idea whatsoever osteopathic physicians were or did, that I would rise to the highest pinnacle of that profession and become the president of its national organization, the American Osteopathic Association.

I didn’t anticipate the sense of awful responsibility when we marched for our freedom, when we were jailed, when we were beaten – men, women and children.  I didn’t anticipate that when all was said and done, I would proudly live the last half of my life as a convicted felon, accused of obstructing justice by trying to change unfair laws made by people for whom I couldn’t vote.

I didn’t anticipate that there would be a College of Osteopathic Medicine at Michigan State and that I would serve on its faculty and as an adviser for most of its history.

I am honored that all of this life has become manifest in a series that now bears my name. “Slavery to Freedom: An American Odyssey,” organized by the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine for the last 15 years, has brought to campus living icons of the American Civil Rights Movement. Many of these speakers were young men and women with me in Georgia – Freedom Riders, SNCC members, marchers, clergy and lawyers. These were my friends – my comrades in the struggle. These were people willing to risk their lives and their reputation to bring us all – of all races – from the slavery of discrimination to the freedom of equality and to do it without violence.

This year’s “Dr. William G. Anderson Lecture Series: Slavery to Freedom” begins Feb. 6 and concludes on Feb. 26. 

Photo by Derrick L. Turner