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"At the age of sixty-five, Anna Julia Cooper became the fourth black

 woman to receive a Ph.D. Significantly, all . . .

were also associated with the M Street High School



Marching to a Different Drummer

Unrecognized Heroes of American History

By Robin Kadison Berson

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Anna Julia Cooper



Born a slave in Raleigh, North Carolina, Anna Julia Cooper (1859?-1964) achieved extraordinary academic successes, including earning a Ph.D. from the Universite de Paris (Sorbonne). Anna's mother, Hannah Stanley, most likely (Anna believed because of her fair skin), was the slave mistress of George Washington Haywood, and was thus Anna's father. Hannah's master, according to Berson, was Dr. Fabius Haywood. Berson also differs with others over the year Anna entered St. Augustine's Normal School and Collegiate Institute, operated by the Episcopal Church.

According to Berson, St. Augustine opened its doors in 1868. If that is so, Anna could not have entered school at seven years old if she was indeed born in 1858 or 1859. Berson's view is that Anna won a scholarship and entered the school at ten years old and remained at the school in various capacities, initially after a year as a pupil teacher, for fourteen years. It was also at St. Augustine that Anna met her future husband. Berson explained the meeting as follows:

In 1874, when she received special permission to attend the Greek class offered to theology students, Anna met George Cooper, a West Indian who was studying to become a minister. When she completed her courses at St. Augustine's in 1977, the two were married; they stayed at the school, where both become teachers. barely two years later George Cooper died suddenly. At the age of twenty-one, Anna Cooper became a widow. In her first grief, she clung to the security of St. Augustine's, where she continued teaching.

Anna never remarried.

With a solid background in Greek, Latin, and upper math, Anna won easily admittance into Oberlin College in Ohio, located near Lake Erie. One of the first integrated secondary schools in the country, Oberlin, founded by abolitionist and free thinkers, was the first college to admit both blacks and women. Anna was exceedingly prepared for the rigor of Oberlin. According to Berson,

in addition to English grammar and literature, algebra, and geometry, she had read Ceasar, Virgil, Sallust, and Cicero in Latin and Xenophon, Plato, Herodotus, and Thucydides in Greek.

Oberlin accepted Cooper with sophomore standing and a full scholarship. A serious. committed student, a widow, and several years older than her classmates, Cooper did not partake much of college social life. She boarded with a professor Charles Churchill and his family; they welcomed her with warmth and genuine affection. Cooper found the Churchill home stimulating and cultured. She learned from them a lifelong habit of generosity and hospitality.

In 1884, Anna received her undergraduate degree and then secured a position at Wilberforce University and during the summer sessions earned an A.M. in mathematics from Oberlin. To be near her mother and family, Anna in 1885 returned for a year to St. Augustine. In 1887 she was employed to teach math and Latin at Washington High School (later named the M Street High School) in the nation's capital. In 1901, Cooper became principal of M Street High School.

This school was was again renamed (1916) to honor African America's first professional poet, Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Anna spent the next forty years of her teaching career at the school, making an impact on the school, the curriculum, and the school's students. Cooper encouraged many to seek their careers in institutions of higher education. Her demanding academic success for Negro students created a backlash among the powers of Washington. Berson describes the reaction as follows:

When M Street graduates began receiving scholarships at schools like Harvard, Brown, Oberlin, Yale, Amherst, Dartmouth, Radcliffe, and Wilberforce, the Washington Board of Education took notice. They were furious with Cooper and her embarrassing ability to defy accepted notions of blacks' academic limitations; they determined to remove her from her post. Annette Eaton, an M Street student during the ensuing crisis, recalled that Cooper's real "crime" was the level of academic achievement she expected--and got-- from her students: "It was pure heresy to think that a colored child could do what a white child could" (Cooper, xxxiv). The Board of education charged that Cooper  had refused to use a Board approved textbook; that she was too sympathetic to weak students; that she was unable to maintain tight discipline; that she did not have "proper spirit of unity and loyalty."

She was relieved as principal in June 1906 and began work as a language teacher at Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City, Missouri. According to her  biographer, Leona Gabel, there was also pressure from Tuskegee to drop her. In 1910 she was invited by a new superintendent to return as a teacher rather than as principal. Between 1910 and 1914, partially to deal with frustrated aspirations, Cooper spent three summers studying in Paris as a doctoral student at La Guilde Internationale. 

Her courses fully credited she began study at Columbia University to receive her doctorate. Having adopted her brother's orphaned grandchildren, Cooper was unable to meet Columbia's residency requirement for the doctorate. She transferred her Columbia credits to the Sorbonne, where with several summers research and writing she completed her dissertation, "The Attitude of France on the Question of Slavery Between 1789 and 1848." Her thesis was defended in 1925.

According to Berson, "At the age of sixty-five, Anna Julia Cooper became the fourth black woman to receive a Ph.D. Significantly, all three of the other black woman doctorates were also associated with the M Street High School; two were teachers there and one was a graduate." In 1930 Cooper retired from the M Street School (Dunbar High School) and became the head of "Frelinghuysen University, a loose conglomerate of assorted adult evening schools for Washington's working black population." 

Founded in 1906 by a former slave, Frelinghausen provided religious classes, literacy programs, and various skilled trades classes; its programs were aimed at the city's poorest sector, but Cooper worked fiercely to elicit understanding and financial support from the black middle-class. She was frustrated in this by the Depression. Frelinghausen spent the 1930s and '40s in a desperate scramble for funds, and a change in standards cost the school its accreditation. Frelinghausen, as troubled as it was, filled a shameful voice in the capital: Of Washington's seven full-time universities, only Howard accepted blacks; of eighty part-time or special training schools, not one enrolled blacks. Cooper was deeply committed to the mission of Freelinghausen; after the school lost its building during the depression, she opened her home to its classes, and she willed her property to the school, to be used in some way for the education of African Americans.

At eighty-three years old Cooper retired from Frelingshuysen in 1942, but continued to write on topics of interested, including slavery and education. In 1951 she also completed a work on the The Grimke Family. Cooper's most forceful writing was completed in 1892,, entitled A Voice From the South by a Black Woman of the South. It  is divided into two parts, "Soprano Obligato" and "Tutti Ad Libitum" and comprises eight essays. 

There are two recently published texts that contain the content of Cooper's A Voice from the South: a 1998 book, edited by academics Charles Lemert and Esme Bhan; and a 1990 Oxford publication of the Schomburg Library of 19th Century Black Women Writers Series, edited by Henry Louis Gates and Mary Helen Washington.

Both books contains the eight essays, namely, "Our Raison d'Etre" (1892), "Womanhood: A Vital Element in the Regeneration and progress of a Race" (1886), "The Higher Education of Women" (1890-1891), "Woman Versus The Indian" (1891-1892), "The Status of Women in America" (1892) -- all contained in Part 1 (entitled "The Colored Woman's Office" in Charles Lemert.s book).

Part Two of Voice from the South (entitled in Lemert's book "Race and Culture) contains "Has America A Race Problem? If So, How can It Best be Solved" (1892), "The Negro as Presented in American Literature" (1892), "What Are We Worth" (1892), and "The Gain from a Belief" (1892). Lemert's book has two additional essays. His book is concluded with a third section "The Range of Cooper's Voice--Feminism, Social Service. Education and Race Politics." 

Lemert thus includes Cooper's The Intellectual progress of the Colored Woman in the United States Since the Emancipation Proclamation: A Response to Fannie Barrier Williams (1893). This editor also begins the book with his introduction, entitled "Anna Julia Cooper: The Colored Woman's Office."

Anna Julia Cooper died in her 105th year in her T Street Home of an heart attack. Her funeral was held in the chapel at St. Augustine's College in Raleigh. She was buried next to her husband George Cooper in a Raleigh cemetery. Her archived papers are housed at Howard University's Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. 

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Cooke, Paul Phillips. "Anna J. Cooper: Educator and Humanitarian." Negro History Bulletin 45, 1 (January-March, 1982): 5-7.

Cooper, Anna Julia. A Voice from the South [1892] Introduction by Mary Helen Washington, New York: Oxford University Press, in collaboration with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 1988.

Essence, February, 1998, p. 84.

Foner, Philip S. and Robert J. Branham. Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900.  University of Alabama Press, 1998.

Giddings, Paula. When and Where I Enter. New York: William Morrow, 1984.

Hellerstein, Erna Olafson, et al., eds. Victorian Women: A Documentary Account of Women's Lives in Nineteenth Century England, France, and the United States. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 1981.

Hutchinson, Louise Daniel. Anna J. Cooper: A Voice from the South. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1981.

Library Journal, May 1, 1998, p. 123.

Lina Mainiero, Ungar, ed. American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present, Vol. 1: A to E, 1979.

Loewenberg, Bert, and Ruth Bogin, eds. Black Women in Nineteenth Century American Life: Their Words, Their Thoughts, Their Feelings. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 1976.

Sicherman, Barbara and Carol Hurd Green. Notable American Women: The Modern Period.  Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 1980.

Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Winter, 1995, pp. 336-356.

Smith, Jessie Carney, ed. Notable Black American Women. Detroit: Gale Research, 1993.

Terrell, Mary Church. "History of the High Schools for Negroes in Washington." Journal of Negro History 2 (1917):253-266

Source:  AfricanPubs

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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The Voice of Anna Julia Cooper: Including A Voice

From the South and Other Important Essays, Papers, and Letters  

Edited by Charles and Esme Bhan  

Lemert and Bhan bring to life the remarkable Anna Julia Cooper (1858-1964), teacher, scholar, social activist, college president, writer, and emblem of black women of America. Although there are two important biographical studies of Cooper, by Louise Daniel Hutchinson (1981) and Leona C. Gabel (1982), this is the first collection of her writings. It includes her most famous published work, A Voice from the South, by a Black Woman of the South (1892), and an array of essays, speeches, and letters previously accessible only through archival collections, primarily Howard University's Moorland-Spingarn Research Center.

The "voice" of Cooper clearly indicates an individual who knows who she is, what she believes, and what she wants and is forthright in presenting her views and convictions on race politics, feminism, social services, education, race and culture, and slavery. It is a "voice" well worth reading for the ideas and convictions expressed but also as a reflection of the progress and lack of progress in American culture. Editors Lemert (sociology, Wesleyan Univ.) and Bhan, former principal curator at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center and former director of the African American indexing project at the Smithsonian Institution, have created a book that belongs in all academic libraries.—Library Journal

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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