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Carl W. Anderson was a singer, a sailor and an innovative principal at Washburn High School in Minneapolis during a period of great societal change, including racial unrest, in the late 1960s.

Anderson, 96, died of respiratory failure Tuesday in Minneapolis.

In 1962, he was recognized among 20 outstanding principals in the country by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, said his son, Paul Anton, of Minneapolis.

Anderson served as Washburn's principal from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. In his last five years there, he faced unrest among black students, a local manifestation of unrest nationwide. According to Minneapolis newspaper reports, at one point police officers were brought in to cope with unruly students, and there were a few hallway fights involving students and staff.

Anderson hired two black teachers, but didn't meet all dozen demands made by black students.

Meanwhile, some staff members pressed for expulsion of those they deemed troublemakers, but Anderson said his goal was educating all students.

"If you kick them out, then they are out of society," Anderson told the Minneapolis Tribune in February 1972. "Particularly a black youngster. If he doesn't have a diploma, what chance does he have?"

Howard Straiton, now 92, was a Nokomis Junior High principal at the time. "If anybody rode out the storm without getting panicky, it was Carl," Straiton said. "He was very intelligent ... low-key, in control of his temper and emotions. But kids were getting so aggressive."

In 1972, the school district brought in new leaders, and Anderson and his two assistants were transferred to other jobs, said Straiton, who then became a Washburn assistant principal.

"He asked for the transfer," Anton said of his father. "He loved running the school, but it was getting to be too much." He said his father once had to break up a fight and sit on a student until help arrived, even though he had just had back surgery. He worked at district headquarters his last three years.

Anton said his father, a member of the NAACP since 1950, always tried to be sensitive to others' viewpoints. During his time as principal, Washburn became the first Minnesota school to computerize class schedules and to offer elective courses such as philosophy and sociology, Anton said.

Roger Cersine, of Edina, taught the sociology elective, a college prep class.

Anderson "had a very keen knowledge of his staff," Cersine said. "He knew who was able to teach what subjects. I think he memorized everyone's college transcript."

The Washburn area lacked a library and Anderson lobbied for years until the Washburn branch was built in 1969, Cersine said.

During World War II, Anderson served as a naval officer in the South Pacific and participated in several landing invasions, including the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, the biggest naval battle of the war.

He also had a strong tenor. By winning a talent contest, he got to sing in a live radio broadcast of the Armed Services' Christmas show. It included a message from President Franklin Roosevelt and ended with Anderson singing "Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem," Anton said.

In addition to his son, Anderson is survived by two daughters, Judith Remington, of New Richmond, Wis., and Jane Callahan of Rochester, Minn., eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, with visitation one hour before services, at Mount Olivet Careview Home Chapel, 5517 Lyndale Av. S., Minneapolis.

Jim Adams • 612-673-7658