Anderson turned WSU’s fledgling Black Studies program into a force

Black and white photo of Talmadge Anderson.
Talmadge Anderson

Black Studies was relatively new to higher education in 1970 when Talmadge Anderson was recruited to lead Washington State University’s program. Even so, Anderson went on to build one of the broadest interdisciplinary programs in the West, establish a Black cultural center at WSU, and start the Western Journal of Black Studies, among other achievements.

“We offered more courses than one might expect in a place like WSU at that time,” said Quintard Taylor, Jr., who taught in WSU’s Black Studies program for four years and retired from the University of Washington as a professor of American history. “I give Talmadge credit. He fashioned the program without a lot of models to follow.”

Though other universities recruited Anderson, many in cities with large Black populations, he chose WSU and stayed at the university until he retired in 1995. His family said the Georgia native felt at home in the country.

“He liked the fresh air, he loved fishing,” recalled his wife Cerci-Lee Anderson, who still lives in Pullman. Talmadge returned to Georgia after retirement and died in 2011 at age 78.

This inclusive event Feb. 12 with renowned author and public speaker Austin Channing Brown is open to all WSU students, staff, and their families. Learn more at the WSU Events website.

Talmadge, Cerci-Lee and the family’s five kids moved to the small town of Albion near Pullman, where they raised geese and chickens and Anderson could tinker and build. He played guitar, always the blues. Both his daughter Rhunell Anderson and his son Raul Anderson recall him saying jokingly that if they didn’t like listening to the blues on the car radio, they could get out.

Talmadge Anderson also liked poodles.

“If there was a rescue poodle in Spokane, we’d be driving up to get it,” said his wife. “We’d always walk after dinner because he believed in taking care of ourselves and exercising, and there we’d all be walking down the street in Albion with these poodles.”

Anderson also tried to improve life for the small number of Black students and faculty at WSU.

He created a summer workshop to keep kids occupied during the school break and published a newsletter for the Black community. He arranged for a Black beautician and a Black minister to visit Pullman regularly.

“If one of the Black students got in trouble, the first person they would call is Talmadge,” said Cerci-Lee. “He would lecture them about whatever they did.”

Anderson helped bring in Black speakers like author and poet Maya Angelou, who visited in 1972.

He was blunt, he was bold, he was courageous, he was outspoken, and he was 100 percent supportive of Black excellence.

Dwayne Mack
History professor and vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion
Berea College

“He was blunt, he was bold, he was courageous, he was outspoken, and he was 100 percent supportive of Black excellence,” said Dwayne Mack, history professor and vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion at Berea College in Kentucky, who considered Anderson a mentor when Mack was a WSU doctoral student.

Mack credited Anderson with giving many Black scholars exposure they might not otherwise have had through the Western Journal of Black Studies, which Anderson founded in 1977.

“He was able to pay it forward to people like me,” Mack said, adding, “he was a community builder, a voice of reason, and in many ways a reflection of the elders we left behind in our communities.”

Anderson strived to hire Black faculty for the Black Studies program, writing to contacts nationwide to find candidates and often signing off, “Yours in the struggle, Talmadge Anderson.”

He created a gathering place for Black faculty and students, and any others who wanted to join in. The African-American Heritage House was renamed the Talmadge Anderson Heritage House in his honor the year after he retired.

Ultimately WSU’s Black Studies program, like many others nationwide, was absorbed into a broader ethnic studies curriculum.  

Still, said Taylor, the former faculty member, “The very fact that the WSU program lasted as long as it did is a testament to Talmadge’s foresight and creativity.”

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