St. Anna Julia Cooper was born on August 10, 1858, in Raleigh, NC, USA. She was a lay Episcopalian, guardian, world-famous scholar, linguist, educator, speaker, author, and advocate for the rights of black southern women.
She is the author of A VOICE FROM THE SOUTH: BY A WOMAN FROM THE SOUTH, as well as historically significant speeches, essays, and other written works. She died at the age of 105 (!), on February 27, 1964, in Washington, D.C. The Episcopal Church honors her on February 28 along with Elizabeth Evelyn Wright.
Anna’s mother, Hannah Stanley Haywood:
. . . was a slave and the finest woman I have ever known. Presumably, my father was her master (George Washington Haywood); if so, I owe him not a sou (French for “small coin”) and she was always too modest and shamefaced ever to mention him.
The Voice of AJC (See Sources.), page 331.
At 10 years old, she received a scholarship and began classes at St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, a primary-to-high school established by the Episcopal Church specifically for the training of teachers to educate former slaves. After a few months studying on the girls’ track, she demanded to be switched to the boys’ track which contained actual academic and college-preparatory classes.
The school administrators agreed based on her entrance test scores. Three years later, they hired Anna to tutor older students.
In 1877, Anna married Rev. George A. Cooper who had been a student at the school when he was preparing for the Episcopal ministry. Alas, he died only two years later. She never married again.
She earned a B.A. in Math from Oberlin College in Ohio on July 27, 1881. She began teaching, earned a M.A. in teaching, and moved to Washington, D.C., where she taught at a high school for black students, M. Street High School. She published essays, and gave speeches about race and women's inequalities from the perspective of being neither a black man nor a white woman. She didn’t fully belong to either group that was struggling so hard for their rights. She was a black southern woman -- a voice for the voiceless. This is what she said:
We need men who can let their interest and gallantry extend outside the circle of their aesthetic appreciation; men who can be a father, a brother, a friend to every weak, struggling unshielded girl. We need women who are so sure of their own social footing that they need not fear leaning to lend a hand to a fallen or a falling sister. We need men and women who do not exhaust their genius splitting hairs on aristocratic distinctions and thanking God they are not as others; but earnest, unselfish souls, who can go into the highways and byways, lifting up and leading, advising and encouraging with the truly catholic benevolence of the Gospel of Christ.
Voice of AJC, page 64
A VOICE FROM THE SOUTH: BY A WOMAN FROM THE SOUTH was published in 1892 and is full of insights about the social conditions of her day:
A conference of earnest Christian men has met at regular intervals for some years, part to discuss the best methods of promoting the welfare and the development of the colored people in this country. Yet, strange as it may seem, they have never invited a colored man or ever intimated that one would be welcome to take part in their deliberations.
The second important oversight in my judgment is closely allied to this and probably grows out of it, and that is not developing Negro womanhood as an essential fundamental for the elevation of the race, and utilizing this agency in extending the work of the Church.
That some do ask questions and insist on answers, in class too, must be both impertinent and annoying. Let not our spiritual pastors and masters, however; be grieved at such self-assertion as it merely signifies we have a destiny to fulfill and as men and women we must be about our Father’s business.
Voice of AJC, Pages 66-67
After writing of the importance of educating both black men and women for leadership roles in the Church, she focused in on black women:
Indeed to my mind, the attitude of the Church toward this feature of her work is as if the solution of the problem of Negro missions depends solely on sending a quota of deacons and priests into the field, girls being a sort of tertium quid (Latin for “third thing”) whose development may be promoted if they can pay their way and fall in with the plans mapped out for the training of the other sex.
Will not the aid of the Church be given to prepare our girls in head, heart, and hand for the duties and responsibilities that await the intelligent wife, the Christian mother, the earnest, virtuous, helpful woman, at once both the lever and fulcrum of uplifting the race?
Voice of AJC, Page 69
As a linguist, she drops many foreign words into her writing and her advanced vocabulary was also the norm of the academic writing of her day. Modern readers may have to work a little to understand her references. But it’s worth it for bits such as the following which applies to certain men of all races:
I was asked by a white friend, “How is it that the men of your race seem to outstrip the women in mental attainment?”
“Oh,” I said, “So far as it is true, the men, I suppose, from the life they lead, again more by contact; and so far as only apparent, I think the women are more quiet. They don’t feel called to mount a barrel and harangue by the hour every time they imagine they have produced an idea.”
Voice of AJC, Page 84
Then she gets right to the point:
To be plain, I mean, let money be raised and scholarships be founded in our colleges and universities for self-supporting worthy young women to offset and balance the aid that can always be found for boys who will take theology.
The earnest well-trained Christian young woman, as a teacher, as a home-maker, as a wife, mother, or silent influence even, is as potent a missionary agency among our people as is a theologian; and I claim that at the present stage of our development in the South she is ever more important and necessary.
Voice of AJC, Page 90
This next section puts in perspective the racism black southern women faced every day:
And yet she has seen these same “gentlemanly and efficient” railroad conductors when their cars had stopped at stations having no raised platforms, making it necessary for passengers to take the long and trying leap from the car step to the ground or step on the narrow little stool placed under by the conductor, after standing at their posts and handing woman after woman from the steps to the stool, thence to the ground, or else relieving her of satchels and bags and enabling her to make the descent easily, deliberately fold their arms and turn round when the Black Woman’s turn came to alight – bearing her satchel, and bearing besides another unnamable burden inside the heaving bosom and tightly compressed lips.
The feeling of slighted womanhood is unlike every other emotion of the soul . . . it’s holier than that of jealously, deeper than indignation, tenderer than rage. Its first impulse of wrathful protest and proud self-vindication is checked and shamed by the consciousness that self assertion would outrage still further the same delicate instinct.
Voice of AJC, Page 92
Anna believed that it’s the different races of America that is its strongest feature and that its vitality will only grow as the races work together for the common good:
Has he religion, he does not want to be made to feel that there is a white Christ and a black Christ, a white Heaven and a black Heaven, a white Gospel and a black Gospel – the one ideal of perfect manhood and womanhood the one universal longing for development and growth, the desire for being, and being better, the great yearning, aspiring, outreaching, in all the heart-throbs of humanity in whatever race or clime.
It is only through the clearing the eyes from bias and prejudice, and becoming one with the great all pervading soul of the universe that either art or science can read what is still unread in the manuscripts of God.
Voice of AJC, Page 102
From that general statement on race, she concludes with her point on black women:
The colored woman must stamp weal or woe on the coming history of this people. May she see her opportunity and vindicate her high prerogative.
Voice of AJC, Page 118
I speak for the colored women of the South, because it is there that the millions of blacks in this country have watered the soil with blood and tears, and it is there too that the colored woman of America has made her characteristic history, and there her destiny is evolving.
Voice of AJC, Page 202
Anna was appointed principal of M Street High School in 1901. Meanwhile, she continued with her speaking engagements, work with the poor, and writing (as she did throughout her long life).
In 1905, she was fired from M. Street High School when she refused an order by the school administration to dumb down her curriculum for the black students as they feared their “over education” would be perceived as a threat to white society.
She moved to Missouri and taught at Lincoln University until 1911 when a new administration called her back to M. Street High School.
Some historians believe that she began pursuit of a doctorate in 1914 to “erase” the shame of being fired by her beloved school. Perhaps. But, it could be argued that she simple had a burning desire to first learn and then teach.
Her pursuit of a French doctorate was put on hold in 1915, due to a family emergency – her deceased brother’s wife died, leaving behind five children who needed her:
. . .ranging in age from an infant of 6 months to the ripe age of 12 years. I had taken them under my wing with the hope and determination of nurturing their growth into useful and creditable American citizens.
With butter at 75 cents per pound still soaring, sugar severely rationed at any price and fuel oil obtainable only on affidavit in person at regional centers, the judge at Children’s Court – on occasion I had to report there – said to me: “My, but you are a brave woman!” Not as brave as you might imagine, was my mental rejoinder – only stubborn, perhaps or foolhardy, according to the point of view.
Voice of AJC, Page 322
She was able to hire nannies or domestics over the years to help her (one in particular she referred to as Aunt Charlotte), but she had to work extra hours to earn the income needed to run her house and raise her nieces and nephews.
In the summer of 1920, she took a job supervising a playground in West Virginia where she met the unsocialized children of a particular woman whom she tried to befriend by visiting her home to bring her a basket that she had taught the woman’s son to weave. At the door, the woman responded:
“I keep to myself; I don’t want nothin’ to do with nobody.”
“But Mrs. Berry,” I persisted, “You can’t live that way! You can’t be in the world without having something to do with people!”
“I been livin’ that way longer’n you been livin’ yo’ way,” she rejoined.
After using all the illustrations and arguments I could think of to suggest the interdependence of man on man, I was rewarded by seeing the merest ghost of a smile flint across her countenance, more like the quivering glean of faraway lightning than the steady radiance of sunlight and dawn. We were still standing where I could look out from the threshold of the porch on the muddy water of the Ohio River. “There’s nothing you could get to eat,” I continued, “without calling in someone to help you out. You can go to the river and fish --- ”
“And then I’d have to have lard to cook ‘em with,” she put in brightly.
Good! I knew I had struck fire and we were friends at last.
As I came down the steps she called out almost shamefacedly, “When you come to town again, come to see me!”
“Oh no,” I bantered. “You don’t want to see anybody!”
“Well, if all was like you,” she answered dismally.
It was not till I had left that town that I understood the tragedy of Mrs. Berry’s grim struggle with life. Her husband, an innocent man, had been torn from her arms by an infuriated mob and brutally murdered – lynched.
The town realized its mistake afterwards when the true culprit confessed, but it was too late to bind up that broken family, and the humble drama of that obscure black woman like a wounded animal with her cubs literally digging herself in and then at bay dumbly turning to face – America her “head bloody and unbowed” – I swear the pathos and inexorable fatefulness of that titanic struggle—an inescapable one in the clash of American forces, is worthy an Epic for its heroic grandeur and unconquerable grit!
Voices of AJC, Page 228-229
Anna returned to her doctorial work in 1923, in which she had to travel to Paris several times without support or permission from her school administration. Her job was in peril more than once, but she prevailed and earned her doctorate in 1925.
Her doctoral thesis, written and spoken in the French language, is a history of French slavery, and it explains what happened to modern-day Haiti related to slavery, sugar trade, and the French Revolution. (The text can be found in the fourth part of the VOICE OF ANNA JULIA COOPER, see sources.) It’s a fascinating read and is specific in details more broadly described in a recent article on sugar:
According to Trinidadian politician and historian Eric Williams, “Slavery was not born of racism; rather, racism was the consequence of slavery.” Africans, in other words, were not enslaved because they were seen as inferior; they were seen as inferior to justify the enslavement required for the prosperity of the early sugar trade. – Rich Cohen, National Geographic
Anna retired from M. Street High School in 1925 and supported the arts by opening up her home to performers and friends:
We used to meet in my study, where there was a second piano, not to disturb or be disturbed by the youngsters of my household, who were frankly “bored” by music not distinctly of their generation.
Voice of AJC, Page 318
In other words, she was a typical mother with typical children.
She continued her good works through the rest of her long “retirement” and never wavered in her message:
If the Christ, who was despised and rejected of men nearly 2,000 years ago, were making a second attempt to come to His own among the very men who built temples in His name and magnify their civilization to give Him lip service, would He find Himself again rejected for choosing the humble of earth to confound the pride of the mighty?
Today we see his living presence in some of the least of his children rejected, repressed, and forced outside the pale for no better reason than that a certain pigment is not preferred by those who make up the books.
Voice of AJC, page 298
In 1930 she became president of Frelinghuysen University and held that position until 1941. Afterwards, she continued teaching and publishing for many years. She celebrated her 100th birthday on August 10, 1958.
Anna Julia Cooper died at home at the age of 105, on February 27, 1964. She is buried in Raleigh, North Carolina, next to her husband.
Eternal God, you inspired Anna Julia Haywood Cooper and Elizabeth Evelyn Wright with the love of learning and the joy of teaching: Help us also to gather and use the resources of our communities for the education of all your children; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Collect, HOLY WOMEN, HOLY MEN: CELEBRATING THE SAINTS
THE VOICE OF ANNA JULIA COOPER: Including A VOICE FROM THE SOUTH and Other Important Essays, Papers and Letters, Edited by Charles Lemert and Esme Bhan
Within all the words spoken for the voiceless of her era, Anna's message to them was -- there's too much work to do to be ashamed of who you are.
Yet, I empathize with those who are disenfranchised by the society of their own country as I've experienced this myself, on a much smaller scale, when I was rejected by a group of friends.
It hurt me on a deep level.
And I wondered why I couldn’t shake it off as Groucho Marx did when he said, “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” (Or, for my younger dearworthy readers, like Taylor Swift.)
And so, I embarked on an investigative study as to what I was feeling, why I felt it, and what could I possibly do to make it stop.
The Lord led me to articles and books that helped tremendously such as:
A RETURN TO LOVE: REFLECTIONS ON THE PRINCIPLES OF “A COURSE IN MIRACLES” by Marianne Williamson -- The basic message is “God is love. Everything else is fear.”
ASSERTIVENESS FOR EARTH ANGELS: HOW TO BE LOVING INSTEAD OF “TOO NICE” by Doreen Virtue -- This one is really good for those of us who are tuned into the emotions of others and is especially helpful in the area of shielding ourselves from negative emotions.
I also spoke with friends who blessed me with their empathy, insights, advice, and prayers. One true, intuitive friend introduced me to my cloud of shame and then recommended the written works of Brené Brown.
Now, I had already read Brené Brown’s DARING GREATLY: HOW THE COURAGE TO BE VULNERABLE TRANSFORMS THE WAY WE LIVE, LOVE, PARENT, AND LEAD when it was first published and I loved it! I had been intrigued enough at the time to purchase her earlier work, I THOUGHT IT WAS JUST ME (BUT IT ISN’T): MAKING THE JOURNEY FROM “WHAT WILL PEOPLE THINK? TO “I AM ENOUGH,” and had diligently placed in on my to-read pile. Sigh. Here's the thing about books, they don't do any good until you read them.
That evening, I wiggled it out of my to-read pile without causing an avalanche and settled in on the couch with my tea, afghan, and cats. And right there in chapter one, exactly what I was feeling -- "Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging." - Brené Brown
Then, as I turned pages and dug deeper, I uncovered within myself a parental-conditioned unworthiness that I unconsciously fed with an addiction to shame avoidance and approval seeking. This had been a hidden factor in all my relationships since young childhood.
I shined His light on that demon and it vanished.
Within quality books; the empathy of friends; saintly and angelic messages; and the silence of solitude in which I prayed and listened; I heard Him:
"You are my Love -- worthy and worthwhile. So, woman up, and let's get to work."
And finally. Finally. In my mind, heart, and deep down in my soul, I believe Him.
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:14-16 HOLY BIBLE, New Revised Standard Version
Dearworthy readers, let your light shine! There's work to be done.
Brené Browne just might be the Anna Julia Cooper of our time. But don't take my word for it, check out her web site and books for yourself.
And remember, “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” -- Groucho Marx
In honor of the olive branch of authentic friendship shared between Anna and Mrs. Berry, I offer my family’s favorite river-fish recipe:
One or two pound fillet of Salmon, wild caught
½ to 1 TBS Soy Sauce
½ to 1 TBS Olive Oil
1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Coat baking sheet with olive oil.
3. Rinse salmon.
4. Place on baking sheet, season with soy sauce.
5. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until opaque.
Serve with pasta or rice and vegetables or salad.
Try to purchase wild-caught and not farm-raised salmon as fish farms are bad for the environment.
If you are looking for something good that we can all work on together, I recommend either or both of these groups:
As well as: