Last week we spoke about Black History Month. This week is our first for Women’s History Month. The black feminist authors Gloria Hull, Patricia Scott, and Barbara Smith once observed that there was a problem of making all the blacks men and all the women white. Well, many blacks are women, and many women are also black. And I would like to mention one, who was not only the original source of Hull, Scott, and Smith’s formulation but also a source of inspiration to many women and men such as me throughout our career: Anna Julia Cooper.
Cooper was born into slavery in Raleigh, North Carolina, on 10 August 1858 and died on 27 February 1964, several months after the Civil Rights March on Washington, and in the year of the famous Civil Rights Act. She studied at the St. Augustine Normal School and Collegiate Institute, now St. Augustine University, in Raleigh on a scholarship from the age of ten.
A precocious student, Cooper taught mathematics and other subjects there, and she subsequently achieved her B.A. and M.A. degrees at Oberlin College. She then taught at the famous M. Street High School, Paul Laurence Dunbar, in Washington, DC, where her students were African Americans and Native Americans whom she prepared in the liberal arts for pursuit in higher education in the most competitive colleges and universities across the country. She achieved her doctorate, while working as a full-time administrator and teacher, through writing a dissertation at the Sorbonne in Paris on the Haitian Revolution.
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Dr. Cooper’s achievements are too numerous for this short segment. She was at the first Pan-African Congress meeting in London, along with W.E.B. Du Bois and many others in 1900; she stood up, at great expense and abuse, against Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Machine; and was an unflinching defender of women’s rights and without question one of the great feminist theorists of the late 19th century and early 20th century.
I have written about her contributions to philosophy in my book An Introduction to Africana Philosophy (Cambridge UP, 2008). I want here to encourage listeners of this program [and readers of this blog] to learn more about her in the many websites, articles, and books engaging her thought. Here is a short list with which to begin:
Some works by Cooper:
Cooper, Anna Julia. 1988. A Voice From The South, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
——–. 1998. 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. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc.
——–. 2006. Slavery and the French and Haitian Revolutionists: L’Attitude de La France a L’Egard de L’esclavage Pendant La Revolution, trans. and ed. by Frances Richardson Keller. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
And on Cooper, see, for example:
Vivian May. 2007. Anna Julia Cooper, Visionary Black Feminist: A Critical Introduction. New York: Routledge.
So I close with a reflection from “What Are We Worth?,” one of the chapters from her famous book, A Voice from the South (Xenia, Ohio: The Aldine Printing House, 1892), where Cooper asks us all to consider whether we have given the world more than was invested in us.
Dr. Cooper gave so much more than was invested in her, as was the case of so many black women before her and many others who succeeded her. We have all benefited, however, from her giving so much and perhaps we could all learn from her what it means always to consider each day giving if but a little bit more.