Oral history interview with Gloria L. Anderson

  • 2009-Aug-21

Gloria L. Anderson was born and raised in Altheimer, Arkansas, and had five brothers. Her father was a farmer and then a janitor; her mother a domestic worker and a creative seamstress. Anderson was always good in school, even skipping grades, yet she had to attend segregated schools, literally just down the road from the origin of Brown v. Board of Education. Her high school was called Altheimer Training School; the one for white students was called Altheimer High School.

Anderson attended Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical, and Normal College (AM&N) on scholarship; she was valedictorian of her class (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was her commencement speaker and stands beside her in a photo). Although she thought she did not want to teach, she took a job teaching the seventh grade in an Altheimer school, leaving after a year to accept a teaching assistantship at Atlanta University. There, with Kimuel Huggins and Henry McBay as mentors, she wrote a master’s thesis in butadiene chemistry. During this time she also married. After a year of teaching at South Carolina State College and two at Morehouse College Anderson was accepted into the doctoral program at the University of Chicago. She studied fluorine, using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), in Leon Stock’s lab. She had no study group and little help, teaching herself first the fluorine-19 NMR and then other types. She was friends with Thomas Cole, a fellow student who later became president of Clark Atlanta University.

Having obtained her PhD, Anderson became associate professor and chair of the department of chemistry at Morris Brown College. In that position she struggled with the National Science Foundation and other organizations to get equipment and funding for the school. She was offered the Fuller E. Callaway Chair, which she held until she became Dean of Academic Affairs, and which she resumed when she went back to teaching. She continued her research into fluorine-19, and began studying amantadines as potential antivirals; she often paid for her own research and patents. Twice she was interim president of Morris Brown; she laments the college’s current unaccredited status, the loss due to a former president’s fraud.

In addition to her work for the College, Anderson has been a board member and Vice Chair of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; she served also on two task forces, one for minorities and one for women in public television. She worked on boards of Georgia and Atlanta Public Broadcasting, as well as many others, and she has been on an advisory committee for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Throughout her long career, she has won and received numerous honors.

Throughout the interview Anderson discusses the politics of being a woman in a man’s world and of being black in a white world. She found her inspiration in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and has spent her professional life trying to make things better and easier for the less-advantaged. Anderson’s advice to young women considering chemistry as a career is: you must love chemistry; you must be committed; and you must prove yourself over and over.

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Available upon request are 1 PDF transcript and 3 audio recording files.

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