ANDERSON – Prior to the 1970s, no member of the African-American community in Anderson and Madison County was able to win elective office.
That all changed when Amos Jackson, a Democrat, won election in the 1970s as an at-large member of the Madison County Council. Four decades later, Republican Rudy Pyle won in a countywide race for Circuit Court Division 1 judge.
Shortly after Jackson won election to the county office, John German was elected the first black member of the Anderson City Council.
German was elected to the City Council in 1976 and lost in the 1980 primary to Charles Gardner.
“I helped Bob Rock,” German said Friday of Rock’s successful campaign for mayor in 1972. “I was an assistant to him and decided to run for the city council.
“I wasn’t going to run again, but people talked me into it,” he said. “I had a business back then and had more of an interest in that. I couldn’t live on the city council pay.”
German said Jackson was probably the ground breaker for African Americans and people followed his lead.
“I was proud of the number of African Americans that were hired by the city by Mayor Rock,” he said. “There were probably more hired than there is now.”
German said it is his opinion the city of Anderson has regressed back to the 1950s and 1960s. He said the city hasn’t upgraded the infrastructure over the years.
“At the time it was unheard of,” current Madison County Councilman John Bostic said of the victories by Jackson and German.
“They were the ground-breakers for Ollie (Dixon) and I,” he said. “They were the councilmen we knew and were in contact with.”
Bostic said in the 1970s the makeup of the Anderson and Madison County councils were not reflective of the representation of the county’s population in terms of minority members.
“They broke the first ground for us,” he said. “There had never been a person elected to a county position.”
Roger Clark, a member of the Anderson Board of Public Works, said Jackson, German and Zeb Christian, the first black on the Anderson school board, were forerunners for the community.
“We’re standing on their shoulders because they broke ground for us,” Clark said. “They were the first. They were the people we looked up to and were our heroes.”
Clark said the community has come a long way, but there was a price to pay. He said Jackson and German were limited in what they could accomplish on the councils.
“Right now it’s more covert than overt in terms of what the guidelines are,” he said. “We have come a long way if you look at the number of people involved.”
Bostic said he is still dissatisfied with the number of African Americans serving in elected positions.
“The people in the county have to be ready to support the most qualified candidate,” he said.
Bostic said there are four or five people in the black community that could run successfully for elective office in Anderson and Madison County.
“We’re trying to lead them in the right direction,” he said. “There is always pressure. They need to be qualified to do the job and not just represent 5 or 10 percent of the community, but represent the whole city or county.”
Clark said younger people are being encouraged to run for political office and become leaders in the community.
“There are some in the younger generation ready to step up and be a leader in the community,” he said.
Clark said it is easier for an African American to be elected in the city of Anderson because that is the center of the community.
“It’s a hurdle to get elected in the county,” he said.
Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 640-4863.