Louise Anderson in Her Own Words
Tape recorded and transcribed by Victor Moffett
I was born in Bogart, Georgia, in 1921, the fourth child of John and Bertha Davenport Anderson, and the second child to live. My family moved to High Point, North Carolina, in 1924. Mama, who had married at sixteen and had had her first child at seventeen, had always had brothers and male cousins around her, and when she moved to High Point she was lonesome. She relived her life with her children, she played games with us in the evening: “Jack and the Bean Stalk,” Hambone,” and “Rabbit Hop.” I know her stories and sometimes tell them now. I know how frightened she was as a young woman in Buckhead when the Ku Klux Klan marched. I know how one of her uncles got word that a white man was coming to get him, and the uncle sent word back, “Tell him to come on; the table is set.” I know how when she and her new husband moved into their new home on a white man’s farm, Mama chopped an acre of corn and how she was used to set an example for everyone else. All of her life she set an example, and she expected us to do the same. My father was a reader and he, too, told us stories. He read the funny paper to all the children in the neighborhood. I didn’t realize that he did it because most of the parents couldn’t read.
My mother had grown up in the church and she practiced the same thing with us. She supported our endeavors and came to every program we were in. She brought the flowers to my junior high graduation. Always she was the one who brought the flowers. I am so grateful that I was able to thank her before she died for always bringing beauty.
My mother did domestic work and was an excellent cook. How did she learn to make the dishes she did? When she came to High Point she didn’t know how to cut a grapefruit. I don’t recall ever taking a lesson or my mother actually teaching us how to cook, yet we became excellent cooks too.
I have always had a good memory (blessing or curse?) and I began to memorize poems, starting with Bible verses. I had a younger sister and brother who went to a Lutheran school. This was a one room school and my sister was allowed to sit in as a favor to my mother because she was too young for school. One day she was asked a question jokingly and she could answer. She knew one hundred Bible verses. I’m a believer in open class rooms. I too sometimes went to this school just to observe, and I wish that I could do something like this now.
I also realized at this time that I loved to perform before an audience and through my high school years I was in the dramatic club and debating society—anything to perform.
I’ve done domestic work, clerical work, and professional cooking. I remember going on excursions, seeing minstrel shows (Silas Green from New Orleans), hearing the blues, getting caught in domestic squabbles, fighting the law, drinking corn whiskey, teaching Sunday school, writing church plays, listening to W.E.B. Dubois, meeting Langston Hughes, riding Jim Crow trains, playing the numbers, rushing with my white lady boss and the baby to wave at the first express train going from New York to Florida. I remember root doctors, jack leg preachers, inspired teachers who taught me black history, the joy of hearing ghost stories and family stories, and grandmas and cousins, and the lessons my mother taught me through love.
I have been happy in a world of inequitable opportunities because I was taught that no one was my inferior—consequently no one was my superior. So, “How do you do President Bush?” Yet it is my duty to bring beauty and make things equal. Have a few laughs too.
Note: Louise Anderson starred in Tom Davenport's "Ashpet: An American Cinderella".