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Anderson during a radio interview at WTLS

Anderson broke the color barrier

By Michael Butler

Tallassee's first African-American police officer has died. Willie Anderson passed away on Saturday.

Anderson joined the Tallassee Police Department on July 1, 1975.

"Steve Segrest suggested that since we all radiated together, I should consider it," Anderson said in a radio interview on WTLS. "I had positive thoughts concerning the police department."

The police chief at the time was Gordon Thornell. Anderson was one of the first officers to go through the Montgomery Police Academy devised by Mayor Emory Folmer in 1975.

"I was with the second class to go through," Anderson stated. "They were very stern."

Anderson's first official assignment was to patrol the carnival. The annual event occured each summer next to the football stadium in Tallassee. There were some who disproved of Anderson's appointment to the force.

"Anytime you offer newness into anything, you're going to find some residuals," he said. "You get a few sneers of jeers, but overall the whites respected me. The black parents would tell their kids, 'see you can do this'."

Anderson said that he always had the support of his fellow officers.

"When you need backup, it doesn't matter whether he's black or white, you need some help, (especially) husky, burly guy of 6-2, 240 pounds."

In 1991, mayor Bobby Payne gave Anderson a commendation for his role in apprehending a robber at the Zippy Mart store in East Tallassee. During the robbery, Anderson was on regular patrol around 3:00 a.m. "I got there just in time to see a young man smash a bottle across one of the cashier's head and dragged him in the back. I maintained the door and called for backup. When he came out, I had my weapon drawn. I told him it's over."

Anderson being recognized for his service by former mayor George McCain in 2011

Anderson retired in 1996 from the Tallassee force. He had a brief stint in police work in Tuskegee afterward. In all, he put in 21 years in law enforcement.

In 2010, Anderson was presented a plaque by chief Jimmy Rodgers recognizing him as Tallassee's first officer of color to wear the uniform. The following year, mayor George McCain honored Anderson for his service at the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day ceremony at Bell Park.

Anderson spent his retirement years fishing and building dog houses. He was a faithful member of God Congregation Holiness Church in Tallassee with his wife Janet.

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