Former Greenville city councilman, state representative and state senator Ralph Anderson was described by his longtime friend Ray Martin, his daughter Valerie Anderson, and State Rep. Leola Robinson-Simpson as a man who fought to keep hope alive for the disenfranchised.
Anderson, who passed away at home in November, was born in 1927 and grew up through the Great Depression.
“Life was generally difficult,” Valerie Anderson said of her father’s youth. “He used to say that he didn’t know how difficult it was because it was difficult for everybody. He used to have a little shoe stand where he polished shoes in order to make a little extra money growing up.”
While times were hard for almost everyone during the Great Depression, Ralph Anderson, like many other African Americans at the time, faced a greater obstacle, segregation, which limited what he could do with his life at the time. As a lifetime member of the NAACP and a member of Springfield Baptist Church, he participated in the civil rights movement to improve the lives of everyone in the community, his daughter said.
In addition to fighting for equal rights, he was described as someone who encouraged others. When Robinson-Simpson returned to Greenville 40 years ago, she reconnected with him.
“I knew Ralph going back 40 years when I first came back to Greenville from New York,” Robinson-Simpson said. “He remembered me from the time I was in the civil rights movement, when we were in demonstrations and arrested. He always wanted to encourage me to step out and do the things that I did back then. Sometimes it’s hard to do when you have five children and you are married. He always encouraged me to get involved. His encouragement was based on his love for the community.”
She eventually served as Anderson’s campaign manager when he retired as the first African American postmaster in the Upstate and ran for Greenville City Council. She later served as his campaign manager during his run for the House of Representatives as well.
Anderson ultimately decided to run for office because he wanted to improve the quality of life in Greenville based on what he saw while working in the postal service.
“He would say to those around him about the things as a postmaster and postal worker that bothered him and he felt that Greenville could do better,” Robinson-Simpson said. “He felt the poorer neighborhoods were neglected and felt they shouldn’t be neglected the way they were because Greenville was a place for everybody. That’s why he ran for the city council. When he was on city council, he did a lot to improve the quality of life in Greenville.”
While on Greenville City Council, Anderson worked to improve the recreation centers so children would have safe places to go; added sidewalks to neighborhoods that did not have them; and worked to improve the streets in his district. He also worked across party lines to ensure that African American city employees who were not given access to full-time benefits prior to integration were able to receive the same benefits as their non-black counterparts, Robinson-Simpson said.
When Anderson went to Columbia, he continued to reach across the aisle to improve the quality of life for all South Carolinians. One of the bills he was most proud of held hospitals accountable for the transmission of infectious diseases, Robinson-Simpson said.
“When he went to Columbia, he thought he could do more in terms of pioneering legislation and getting laws passed to impact the quality of life,” Robinson-Simpson said. “Even in the Senate, he pioneered a number of wonderful bills to impact quality of life. He did one on controlling infections that affected mobility in the hospitals. Sickness and death know no race.”
While Anderson was known for his life in politics, Robinson-Simpson, Martin and his daughter all remember him as a man who encouraged others in life. He encouraged Robinson-Simpson to run for the Greenville County School Board, Martin to speak at roundtables in the community, and his children to go as far as they wanted to with school.
“My grandmother didn’t graduate high school,” Valerie Anderson said. “My dad and his sister graduated high school and finished college. When it came to myself and siblings, it was never a choice. We knew we were going to have an opportunity to go to college. He made his college experience sound like it was a place to go, so you wanted to have that same experience. He wasn’t one to accept defeat in us. We had to at least try. He was always out ahead of us and it always seemed we were playing catch up. He always inspired us to be our best all the time.”
Ultimately, Anderson will be remembered as a man who kept hope alive and was a champion for the voiceless.
“As a public servant, he was a man who served his district in city council, the House and Senate,” Martin said. “In all three, he did it with integrity, dignity and much compassion. Even in the districts that he served, he was the heart and soul of those community. He was a strong advocate of “keeping hope alive,” he was an advocate of improving the quality of life of so many who had almost given up. He was not just a great politician, he was a great man. He saw beyond himself and knew there would be a future in tomorrow. He wanted to make certain to put in place the tangible building blocks, so that things he started could continue.”