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Pearl C. Anderson Was Dallas’ Patron Saint

The entrepreneur and philanthropist left an indelible and generous mark on North Texas.
| |Photography courtesy of LBJ Presidential Library and Dallas history & Archives division, Dallas Public Library
GOOD COMPANY: Pearl Carina Anderson (right) pictured with friends at the home of Reverend Hallois Rhett James in 1966.

Earl Carina Anderson was born in Winn Parish, Louisiana, to a mixed-race mother who was a midwife and a White physician father. She was raised by her grandmother, Nellie Stringer, and worked on the family’s cotton and peanut farm as a child in a heavily segregated rural Louisiana.

With no school for Black children in her hometown, she practiced her alphabet in the dirt until the Rosenwald Foundation opened a school she could attend. She would later credit that philanthropy as inspiring her future generosity toward educational initiatives. After considering being a midwife like her mother, she attended college for one year and became a teacher in Arkansas and Louisiana.

Thinking there would be more opportunities for a Black woman in Texas than in Louisiana, in 1919, she moved to Dallas and opened a grocery store in South Dallas, where she bought a small plot of land and convinced a lumber yard owner to loan her the wood to build a store. The venture was an immediate success and was paid off in just a few years. Later, she rented the store, sold the stock, and worked in an ice house, where her light complexion allowed her to pass as White.

In 1929, she married a prominent physician named John Wesley Anderson, who had been her doctor after she became ill working at the ice house. He was a wealthy and prominent member of Dallas’ Black community and was 20 years her senior. The two had one daughter who died in childhood.

When he passed away in 1947, she was left with several properties and committed her life to philanthropy. She used her wealth to establish a preschool, fund scholarships at Bishop College, UNT, and SMU, and benefit many other causes.

She was also named chair of the committee set up by the NAACP to investigate the bombings that were occurring at Black-owned homes in formerly all White South Dallas. The committee and incident are discussed in Jim Schutze’s The Accommodation, which was the Big D Reads selection this year.

She flirted with a political career after she was suggested as a candidate for the State Board of Education after 93,000 African Americans signed a petition to get a Black person named to it. She would go on to receive numerous civic and business awards, board positions, and recognition for her lifetime of philanthropy connected to education and health.

She gifted a residual interest in a trust consisting of a prime piece of land in downtown Dallas to the Dallas Community Chest Trust Fund, which eventually created the Pearl C. Anderson Fund at Communities Foundation of Texas. Today, CFT is still using the fund for educational purposes here in Dallas.

Later, a middle school in South Dallas was named after her. In 1961, Anderson was named to the Governor’s Committee for the White House Conference on Aging. She also was the first woman to be named an honorary lifetime member of the board of directors of the American Red Cross.

In a speech reflecting on her life, Anderson said, “Helping people becomes a habit and a very satisfying one. Giving of one’s self can be a very rewarding way of life.”