It is documented that the first black family to settle in Anderson was the Monroe Williams family, who resided at Tenth and Chase Street. The exact date as to when the Williams family purchased their Anderson home is not recorded, but is believed to have been in the mid 1880s. A gentleman named “Sour Mash” Bill came to Anderson immediately after the Civil War, and was appointed turnkey at the Madison County Jail in 1868.
Between 1890 and 1900, the black population of Anderson continued to grow. Many came from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, and found steady work at the Gould Rolling Mills, located in the Irondale area. Other prominent black Anderson residents during this time included Peter J. Blakemore, who served as city commissioner from 1905 through 1907. Joe and Dick Wadkins were the first black men from Anderson ever to serve on a jury.
The city of Anderson had its first black physician in Dr. James Ellis, who practiced medicine in the community until his death in 1904. After the passing of Dr. Ellis, many black physicians had offices and made house calls, including a Dr. Middleton who had many white patients. Dr. A.P. Hall was a chiropractor that practiced in the Citizens Bank Building before relocating to Indianapolis. After Dr. Hall’s departure, Mrs. Hattie Kirtley took up residence in his vacated office and operated her chiropractor business from there.
Alex Vance was the first known black business owner in Anderson, operating a barber shop on Main Street for several years. The Blakemore brothers operated a blacksmith shop for over 45 years, primarily ran by Peter J. Blakemore. His brother Marcus later owned an electrical shop that once was rated the best in the city. James Brock was a talented tailor and ran a thriving tailoring business for many years. John Wooten operated a grocery store on Madison Avenue and was one of the first black residents of Anderson to own an automobile.
In 1928, Frank Taylor and his wife, Bonnie, came to Anderson, but were unable to find employment. Mr. Taylor was in need of work and decided to open a bakery. On his first day of business, Taylor sold only three pies. Though the baker by trade was discouraged, he and his wife committed themselves to making their business a success. One morning, Taylor took a basket filled with bakery items to a Delco-Remy plant and made limited sales to employees. Day after day, Taylor returned to the factory with his baked goods and sales began to increase.
Management at the GM plant purchased a trial order of four dozen pies that sold out immediately at the concession counter. At the peak of production, Taylor sold an average of 164 dozen products on a daily basis in one factory alone. Operating from their home on Chase Street, Frank and Bonnie’s sales flourished, making it necessary to move into a larger home in the 1400 block of Madison Avenue. As the business continued to grow, the Taylors moved their bakery for a third time to Sherman Street, where they employed nine workers and owned two delivery trucks.
Though members of Anderson’s black community were thriving in business, the importance of educating black youths became a priority for many parents and civic leaders. With this in mind, Hazelwood School was erected in 1897 on Madison Avenue. The school was later demolished and replaced with a new learning facility.
Five years later, Shadeland School was built on West 14th Street to accommodate more students. Construction of the five-room schoolhouse cost $5,000. Shadeland was razed with a larger school built at the original site.
It is not known if Henry Tompkins attended either school, but he is listed as the first black student ever to graduate from Anderson High School, followed by Thomas Reynolds.
Upon graduating from Anderson High School, Reynolds attended Indiana State College and Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. He was later named supervisor of music for the public school system in Kansas City, Kansas. After his four-year tenure at Anderson High School, William H. Jackson graduated from Michigan law school and served as secretary to Booker T. Washington for several years.
Other early black graduates of Anderson High School include Druscilla Mallory, Erline Chandler, and Jeannette Montgomery. Mallory and Montgomery both earned teaching degrees from Ball State Teachers College. Miss Mallory was principal at South Side School in Elkhart, and later taught at the University of Chicago. Miss Montgomery taught in Virginia and for Indianapolis public schools.
In 1905, Mrs. C.E. Palmer founded an industrial school for young black girls. The first meetings were held at the Second M.E. Church on Delaware Street. In order to graduate from the industrial school, the girls were required to design and make a shirtwaist garment. Twenty girls graduated from the inaugural class, including Ida Watkins Montgomery, who was selected to teach at the school.
After the death of her husband, Mrs. Palmer was forced to close the school, but not before teaching her students hands-on skills that led to future employment for many of her graduates.