Austin civil rights icon Ada Anderson dies at 99

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin community has lost a titan after decades of work to progress civil rights for people of color in Texas and beyond.

Ada Cecilia Collins Anderson died earlier this week at the age of 99. She was known for a career dedicated to education — including becoming the first Black woman to be elected to the board of directors at Austin Community College.

Anderson graduated from Tillotson College, now Huston-Tillotson University, and then pursued graduate school at the University of Texas — but she was met with roadblocks. At this time, Black students weren’t allowed to attend graduate schools. Anderson told KXAN in 2017 that her application was denied several times.

Once the 1950 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Sweatt vs. Painter struck down the ban on Black people at graduate schools, Anderson was finally allowed in. Still, Black students were limited: they were only allowed to enroll in certain programs and due to ongoing exclusion, Anderson ultimately left. She’d return for graduate school in 1965, however, and received a psychology degree that she’d use at Austin Independent School District, administering psychological tests on students.

In 1953, she and her husband, Marcellus “Andy” Anderson, started the Anderson-Wormley Real Estate firm, Austin’s first Black-owned real estate agency.

In 2014, Mrs. Anderson, by then a widow, gave $3 million to her alma mater, Huston-Tillotson. It was the largest private gift in the university’s history.

Huston-Tillotson thanked Anderson in a Facebook post on Saturday, saying she left “an indelible mark on our university.” Meanwhile, University President Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette called Anderson “the embodiment of a life well-lived.”

In 2017, Anderson explained her process of going about activism, saying she wasn’t “sensitive” about race and was willing to jump into tense conversations about it. She said being ostracized was other people’s problem, saying: “If you don’t care, you can’t be insulted.”

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