In 1982, George Saunders was elected as the first African American representative to the Henderson Board of Aldermen. After the death of Saunders, his daughter, Dr. Elizabeth Ann Saunders, was chosen to fill her late father’s unexpired term on the Henderson Board of Aldermen.
Aside from being Henderson’s first African American representative to the Board of Aldermen, Saunders was a teacher for many years in the Chester County School System. The school system was the place where he gave thirty-seven years of dedicated service to the education of the students who were privileged to have him as a teacher.
Saunders’ path to becoming the first African American elected official to the Board of Aldermen in the history of Henderson was encouraged by a visit from a group of young African American men, former students of Saunders, who asked if he would consider running for a seat on the Board of Alderman. Saunders, ever the educator, did not hesitate when asked if he would run. He accepted the challenge.
After accepting the challenge, he worked hard in campaigning. After teaching during the day, he would campaign after school by going from house to house in the city.
As a beloved teacher, his students would also help in campaigning by encouraging their parents and others to vote for him.
He was elected in 1982 and served until his death in 1987. Saunders was humbled and elated at the opportunity to serve on the City Board of Aldermen.
This was not just a moment of accomplishment for the family and African Americans of the city, but it was a historic moment for the city of Henderson.
As a teacher, Saunders was for “all the students.” As an alderman, he was for “all citizens of the city of Henderson.”
He would say there needs to a greater awareness of the individual and who the individual is instead of portraying the person as an African American male or female or a person of color.
Several members of the African American community approached him and asked him to work toward an effort to secure a city park. He presented the idea to the Board and worked hard to secure the park. After his relentless effort, the Board decided to construct the park. He was able to bring other officials together to build and maintain a city park. The park is now known as the Gene Record Memorial Park.
Saunders knew his place on the Board would offer more opportunities to share his perspective on the issues faced by the city. He would say “I will do what I’ve always done. I’ll stand on the truth and proclaim the truth at all times in all situations.”
He also said what he came to realize about the Board and why he decided to run was he knew his voice mattered. The Board of Aldermen benefited greatly from his broad experience. His convictions were clearly defined and he voiced them fearlessly. He was a servant of the city, of the state, and nation all his life. Throughout his career, he was an official who genuinely enjoyed meeting his constituents.
He would always assert when you are elected you have other elected officials working with you. Saunders’ candidacy was supported by the Mayor and Board, but he had to work to find his voice on the Board and to impress on them that he was capable and qualified to represent the city with excellence as each of the other officials. During his term, he worked collectively with the Board to get beyond this phase.
He was successful in building relationships with the mayor, his colleagues on the Board and the city employees.
He credited his success on the Board of Aldermen to his colleagues on the Board, the mayor, the city employees, and the citizens of Henderson.
Dr. Elizabeth Ann Saunders’ path to becoming the first African American woman elected official to the Henderson Board of Alderman follows the trail blazed by her father, George Saunders.
Some of the same African American men who had approached her father about running for the Board of Alderman approached her and asked if she would be willing to approach the Board with a request to fill the unexpired term of her father after his death. The Board voted to approve her to fill the unexpired term of her father.
Dr. Saunders was first appointed to the City Board of Aldermen in 1987 to fill the unexpired term of her father. She was allowed to serve the full term of her father since the city was under a Private Act Charter that does not specify whether an appointed official must relinquish the post at the next regularly scheduled election or be allowed to serve the entire term. Her father’s unexpired term ended in 1990. She then ran for election in 1990 and was subsequently elected. She served on the Board for 14 years.
According to Dr. Saunders, prior to being appointed and running for office, she had no political aspirations, but instead a heart to help people. She indicated she was humbled and honored to accept the opportunity to finish the term of her father.
Dr. Saunders states being appointed and then elected as the first African American woman to the Henderson Board of Alderman felt amazing. She was in awe of the support she received from residents throughout the city, of every age and ethnicity.
She was grateful for the opportunity to help people on a larger scale when she was in office. She was also grateful not only to bring more change and diversity to the Board but to also be an example that you can do whatever you want to do in life.
Dr. Saunders thinks the decision to seek appointment on the Board and later run for election was made for her. She says she could have gone in a different direction and honestly did not foresee a political path for herself, but when she prays she always asks God to use her, and with this request, you must be willing to go in a direction that you did not foresee or necessarily want for yourself.
During her tenure in office, many opportunities to share her perspectives on issues faced by the city were presented.
Some of the memories of the office included deliberations and discussions on the city budget each year. One of the opportunities afforded was to vote on the construction of a new building for City Hall. With the construction of City Hall, the city’s landscape underwent a major change. Likewise, the face of the city government was transformed too, as Dr. Saunders was the first African American on the City Board of Alderman.
Like her father, she was successful in building relationships with the mayor, her colleagues on the Board and the city employees.
She also credited her success on the Board of Aldermen to her colleagues on the Board, the mayor, the city employees, and the citizens of Henderson.
Dr. Saunders’ advice to any person who decides to run for political office, but particularly African American women, is that you can do whatever you decide to do but you must be willing to do the work.
The untold story of politics can sometimes come with tears, disappointments, potential untruths being spoken against you, and if you allow it—fear.
But it comes with motivation, determination, people who believe in you, people who will help you, people and strangers who are quietly rooting for you and praying for you, and if you’re lucky, it comes with people who will vote for you.