Woman recounts civil rights activism

January 22, 2009|By JANET HEIM

BOONSBORO - The new artwork in Sara Anderson's Fahrney-Keedy cottage isn't a valuable masterpiece, but it's priceless to her. It's a laminated copy of the front page of The New York Times from Nov. 5, 2008, featuring Barack Obama waving after being elected president of the United States.

"This election was so moving," Anderson said.

It's especially touching to Anderson, 78, because she was active in civil rights demonstrations in the early 1960s. The highlight, she said, was attending the March on Washington in 1963 and hearing Martin Luther King Jr. give his "I Have a Dream" speech.

Anderson grew up in the Philadelphia area with little awareness of racial tensions. After graduating from Cornell University and moving to the Washington, D.C., area in 1951, she saw another perspective.

Anderson and her husband, Phil, both worked for the C.I.A. - Sara from 1951 until the birth of their first daughter in 1958. Both spoke Russian fluently, which was an asset to the agency during the Cold War.


The couple lived in Arlington, Va., from 1960-61 with their two young daughters. They had always supported civil rights, but found new inspiration from their Episcopal priest, who spoke about the civil rights movement and encouraged parishioners to take action if they were concerned. For the Andersons, that meant joining the Arlington Council on Human Relations.

The council became aware that a movie theater in their neighborhood was for whites only. With the goal of desegregating the theater, council members spoke to the theater owners without success. The next step was to picket in front of the theater, which resulted in the local Nazi Party chapter organizing a simultaneous protest march.

Anderson's granddaughter, Hilary Goodfriend, wrote a paper about her grandmother's activism during a 2007 summer program at Barnard College. According to Goodfriend's research, the Virginia Legislature passed a law on July 1, 1962, stating that anyone found guilty of maliciously injuring another's business would be arrested.

Sara Anderson and other ACHR members were arrested and released pending court trial, actions that were reported in The Washington Post. She and the other protesters were acquitted.

The March on Washington in 1963 was the culmination of Sara Anderson's civil rights protesting.

"The March on Washington was so wonderful. Everyone was very friendly. It was like a picnic. I heard Martin Luther King Jr. give his "I Have a Dream" speech. That was delightful," Anderson said.

She recalls passing a black church where everyone was invited in for coffee and doughnuts.

Not long after, the Andersons' marriage fell apart. Sara Anderson's focus became finding a job and caring for her girls as a single parent.

By 1965, she moved her family to California for a job with the Stanford Research Institute, working on Soviet budgetary spending. She took a position at the Rand Corporation, researching and analyzing Soviet national income.

She and her daughters moved back east in 1968. A former C.I.A. colleague offered Anderson a position, but her hiring was not approved, an action Anderson believes was a result of her civil rights activism.

She worked for the Center for Defense Information, analyzing Russian military expenditures, then worked for the Bethesda Co-op grocery store from 1976-94.

Anderson has lived at Fahrney-Keedy for two years. She is a substitute teacher for Washington County Public Schools.

Anderson's interest in civil rights continues and Obama's inauguration gives her new hope, she said. She worked the polls at Greenbrier Elementary School and came home too tired to watch election coverage.

"I picked up the paper in the morning and I melted. I think he's a fantastic person," Anderson said of Obama.

After reading Obama's book "Dreams From My Father", she said she think he's very capable of doing things and getting people together.

"It's very exciting times," Anderson said.

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