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Long IslandObituaries

Kenneth Anderson, civil rights activist on LI, dead at 86

At a time in Long Island's history when blacks were often steered away from purchasing homes in predominantly white neighborhoods, civil rights activist Kenneth Anderson fought against discriminatory housing practices.

He fought the battle in court and before county legislatures. But on Sept. 14, 1979, the battle for racial equity and tolerance landed right on his doorstep.

On that day, a cross was burned on the front lawn of Anderson's Port Jefferson home. It was the fifth cross burning in front of a black-owned house on Long Island that summer, according to media reports at the time.

Anderson wrote about the experience days later in a piece printed in Newsday's editorial section. "We are really at a crossroads in our history and these cross burnings are the evidence," Anderson wrote. "We could well have a resurgence of the atmosphere where hate dominates, and where violence against blacks becomes acceptable -- or even virtuous unless people of good will say 'Enough!' "

Anderson died Tuesday from heart failure, surrounded by his family at his daughter's Delaware home, his family said. He was 86.

After leading the Patchogue and Brookhaven chapters of the NAACP, Anderson served as regional director of the group's Long Island branch starting in the late '70s. He also served on the Suffolk Human Rights Commission and was a bass baritone singer who performed several times alongside folk singer Pete Seeger.

"He was a negotiator," said Hazel Dukes, president of the New York State NAACP. "His personality drew people to care about these issues."

Samuel Kenneth Anderson was born in Wilmington, Delaware, on Dec. 3, 1928. He was the oldest of three children born to Edna May Anderson.

In 1963, Anderson moved to Port Jefferson with his first wife, Arlene, who later died. He received his nursing degree and master's in social work from Stony Brook University.

He later married Dr. Greta Rainsford, a Hempstead pediatrician, but the couple separated after 10 years of marriage, though they remained friends, she said.

"He was a real fighter in the trenches," Rainsford said.

Anderson and other NAACP leaders sued the Town of Brookhaven in 1975 in federal court, claiming the town's zoning rules discriminated against poor and nonwhite residents, by reducing the amount of available rental housing. A judge ruled in favor of the town. He also organized rallies and urged lawmakers to encourage affordable housing.

Anderson is survived by his sister, Gwendolyn Evans Taylor, and his children Sandra Clark of Middletown, Delaware; Samuel Kenneth Anderson Jr. of Newark, Delaware; Nana Marie Bey and Cynthia Y. Sturgis of New Castle, Delaware; Michael C. Anderson of San Mateo, California, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A funeral is scheduled for Sunday at Hanover Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware, followed by a private burial. The family plans on hosting a memorial in Port Jefferson later this year.


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