Charles H. Anderson was born into slavery in Richmond, Virginia. His enslaver owned a grocery store. Anderson grew up running errands for the grocery, including frequent trips to the nearby home of Jefferson Davis, who would become the President of the Confederate States of America.
Near the end of the Civil War, Charles H. Anderson enlisted in the Union Army, in the 36th Regiment, United States Colored Troops (USCT). He was sent to Texas for duty and was mustered out of service in the summer of 1866. He later came to Ohio.
In the mid-1930’s, the Federal Writers Project began interviewing elderly persons who had been born into slavery. They interviewed Charles H. Anderson and took his photo. In the photo, we see Anderson as an aged man. His hat sports the emblem “G.A.R.,” which stands for “Grand Army of the Republic,” the Union veterans association. Here is part of what Charles Anderson said:
“Life experience excels all reading. Every place you go, you learn something from every class of people. Books are just for a memory, to keep history and the like, but I don’t have to go hunting in libraries, I got one in my own head, for you can’t forget what you learn from experience. …
“I always associated with high-class folks, but I never went to church then, or to school a day in my life. My owner never sent me or my brothers, and then when free schools came in, education wasn’t on my mind. I just didn’t think about education. Now, I read a few words, and I can write my name. But experience is what counts most. …
Nowadays, people are getting crazier everyday. We got too much liberty; it’s all ‘little you, and big me’… “If your back trail is clean, you don’t need to worry about the future. Your future life is your past conduct. It’s a trailer behind you. And I ain’t quite dead yet…”
Charles H. Anderson died in January 1940. He is buried in United American Cemetery. He shares a tombstone with his wife Helen (nee Cruitt), and her son by a previous marriage, John Coleman.