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Anderson comes home from New York City, opens Shoe Shop museum

The first time I met Mrs. Betty Anderson was in Black Belt Treasures in Camden. She stopped and introduced herself. Anderson has a smile that lights up her whole face, the kind that makes you grin from ear to ear as well.

The woman has a way of making you feel at home. After all, it’s not often you get to meet a walking history lesson. I was told long before I began my summer of “Living Democracy” in Camden that I needed to visit with her and hear her story, so I did. 

Her father ran a shoe shop in downtown Camden. Anderson was one out of six other children, and the shoe shop was their way of life. She spent many days hanging out at the shoe shop with her father.

Once the Civil Rights era began, Anderson found herself in the heart of it all at the young age of 15 when she marched on Bloody Sunday and participated in the march from Selma to Montgomery. 

Reflecting on her time as a young activist, she shared one particular portion of the march to Montgomery in vivid detail. Her left shoe had a hole in the sole. Imagine walking for miles and miles to reach Lowndes County and realizing you have to walk much, much further with a giant hole in your shoe. Anderson recalled, “This white lady came out of nowhere. She was neither young nor old, but the lady emptied her Cracker-Jack box on the ground and shoved the box in my shoe.  Because of her, I made it all the way to Montgomery.”

Anderson shares more of the positive and brighter memories in regards to that difficult era. That’s just how she is. The phrase “turn lemons into lemonade” seems about right for her.

In 1967, immediately following her high school graduation, Anderson moved to New York City to an apartment in Manhattan at the age of 17.  For 42 years, she immersed herself into life in the Big Apple. Anderson had a variety of jobs from inspecting spark plugs to working on Wall Street for Jackie Kennedy’s father in a brokerage firm. She recalled how Jackie Kennedy would come into the office on holidays and give the employees gifts.

Soon after starting her job in the brokerage office, a woman told her that she needed to try-out as a model. Anderson then began her part-time career as a Ford Agency model. She was directed to various department stores such as Bloomingdales or Macy’s to model for a photograph a shoe or bracelet and also did runway shows.

Several years after her start at the brokerage firm, the firm merged with another, leaving Anderson to search for another career so she could provide for herself and her three children. At first, Anderson had hopes of going to nursing school. Instead, a hospital administrator gave her a position as a recreation therapist and activities director for the first adult daycare center in the United States. The Peninsula Adult Daycare was created for senior citizens in 1977.

Yet another of Anderson’s talents was discovered by the publishers of “Woman’s Day Magazine” while she was out doing a craft show raising money to help fund the Peninsula Adult Daycare. Her craft was creating small pipe cleaner dolls with intricate hats and dresses. The dolls where featured on the front page of “Women’s Day Magazine”. 

Today, Anderson’s dolls are available for purchase at Black Belt Treasures, at 209 Claiborne St. in Camden.

After working at Peninsula for 30 years, Anderson retired at 56. That’s when she decided to come home to small-town life in Camden so she could help with the shoe store following her father’s death.

Coming back to live in Camden after 42 years, she saw many changes in the community. Anderson said, “I saw the changes from coming home on regular visits, but I could see how our small family-owned businesses started to go away. Most of the larger companies were coming in to locate at the by-pass.”

But she is determined to honor both the history and future of the downtown area by creating a museum in her father’s old shop. This summer, you can stop in to visit Anderson at the “Shoe Shop Museum” at 222 Planters St.

Anderson said, “I think it will spark more interest once I am at the museum on a regular basis.” This summer, she plans to open show shop Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9 a.m. to noon and from 3-6 p.m.

The shop will showcase memorabilia her family has saved and accumulated over the years. A colorful striped sidewalk leads you to the red entrance door. After entering, the simple room features walls adorned with an array of TIME magazine articles, old shoes and dresses. A black and white Converse shoe that Anderson wore during the Bloody Sunday march is nailed to the wall.

In addition, a jean patchwork apron her father created from jean scraps and a Saks Fifth Avenue cylinder purse, a nod to Anderson’s New York life, and much more can be enjoyed by visitors. In another side room, you are welcomed by a variety of hand-stitched quilts across the walls and ceiling. A large upright piano steals the spotlight while vintage parlor seating is displayed in an inviting way,

All of the items and memorabilia are worth the visit, but it is Anderson herself that is the true hidden treasure. 

Art Programs Director at Black Belt Treasures and Cultural Arts Center, Kristin Law, said, “Betty is an inspired leader in our community, whose passion for bringing positive change to our beloved town is infectious. She welcomes any opportunity to share her knowledge and museum with local friends, new friends and tourists alike.”

Law added, “She sees the possibilities and isn’t afraid to work hard, tell the truth, and fight for what she believes in. Our community needs more people like Betty Anderson.”

Tags: Camden

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