The Recovered Life of Isaac Anderson
The story of an enslaved man who became a Georgia state senator, helped found a church, and led his people to promise and hope
Owned by his father, Isaac Harold Anderson (1835–1906) was born a slave but went on to become a wealthy businessman, grocer, politician, publisher, and religious leader in the African American community in the state of Georgia. Elected to the state senate, Anderson replaced his white father there, and later shepherded his people as a founding member and leader of the Colored Methodist Episcopal church. He helped support the establishment of Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee, where he subsequently served as vice president.
Anderson was instrumental in helping freed people leave Georgia for the security of progressive safe havens with significantly large Black communities in northern Mississippi and Arkansas. Eventually under threat to his life, Anderson made his own exodus to Arkansas, and then later still, to Holly Springs, Mississippi, where a vibrant Black community thrived.
Much of Anderson’s unique story has been lost to history—until now. In The Recovered Life of Isaac Anderson, author Alicia K. Jackson presents a biography of Anderson and in it a microhistory of Black religious life and politics after emancipation. A work of recovery, the volume captures the life of a shepherd to his journeying people, and of a college pioneer, a CME minister, a politician, and a former slave. Gathering together threads from salvaged details of his life, Jackson sheds light on the varied perspectives and strategies adopted by Black leaders dealing with a society that was antithetical to them and to their success.
"The Recovered Life of Isaac Anderson is a deeply researched, compelling narrative of Reconstruction-era Black political participation and religious development brought to life through the biography of Colored Methodist Episcopal minister Rev. Isaac Anderson. Covering the major themes of Black religious and political life after emancipation, including freed people’s engagements with the Freedman’s Bureau, the establishment of independent Black churches, convict leasing, and Black exodus, this volume revises narratives about the racial politics of the CME Church, while further illuminating the well-established narrative of Black churches as a catalyst for Black political participation and Black politics. "- Nicole Turner, assistant professor of religious studies, Yale University
"In The Recovered Life of Isaac Anderson, Alicia K. Jackson explores the tumultuous history of Reconstruction and the emergence of the Jim Crow South through the fascinating story of one man. Born in 1835 to the white man who owned him as a slave, Anderson gained prominence as a religious, political, and educational leader. His family’s odyssey from Fort Valley, Georgia, to Jackson, Tennessee—with sojourns in Arkansas and Mississippi along the way—sheds light on the struggle for postwar Black political empowerment and cultural autonomy, set against a backdrop of racist violence. In recovering Anderson’s hitherto untold biography, the author tells the story of a persistent southern Black leader on a lifelong quest for the basic rights of American citizenship. "- Jacqueline Jones, University of Texas at Austin, and author of Saving Savannah: The City and the Civil War
"Jackson provides a revealing, detailed account of Isaac Anderson’s life as an enslaved person, a freeman, a businessman, a politician, and a churchman. Jackson's book charts Anderson’s involvement in the founding of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church along with his leadership roles in the church thereafter. Sharing a brief look at the institution of slavery, Jackson gives ‘voice’ to the decades, indeed centuries, of ‘silences’ not only in Anderson’s life, but in the lives of most formerly enslaved, and the many Black Americans to follow. This book contains much in the way of past history, present meaning, and implications for the future. It is a well-documented, chronicled, and research-based piece of American history and is of precious historical and intrinsic value. It is a must-read for all. "- Jessie J. Edwards, six-term mayor of Coldwater, Mississippi
"Sparked by her discovery of a ‘mustard yellow, all-but-discarded brochure’ on Isaac Anderson at Lane College, historian Alicia K. Jackson engaged in a near-decade-long quest to recover Anderson’s extraordinary life as a founding minister of the CME Church, a Reconstruction politician, a school founder, an editor-publisher, a Lane College trustee, and a successful entrepreneur in the post-Emancipation South. "- Logan Hampton, president, Lane College
"Alicia K. Jackson provides the first biography of minister Isaac Anderson (1834–1906) through impressive research that creatively throws light on shadows and uncertainties in the written record of his life. Isaac Anderson’s unique story gives voice to a history often silenced or ignored. After emancipation, Anderson helped lead the new Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, was elected to the Georgia senate, and was a publisher and educator. The Recovered Life of Isaac Anderson is an outstanding monograph that illuminates crucial issues in the history of enslavement, the Black church, and Reconstruction. "- John Patrick Daly, SUNY Brockport
"With the publication of The Recovered Life of Isaac Anderson, Alicia K. Jackson sets a new standard for biographies of nineteenth-century African American leaders. Using genealogical and other local records, she pieces together the background story of a mixed-race man born enslaved on the Georgia frontier who becomes, with freedom, one of the first Black elected officials in the state. Readers have Jackson to thank for reclaiming the inspirational story of the remarkable Isaac Anderson. "- Glenn T. Eskew, Distinguished University Professor, Georgia State University