This is part of an ongoing Washington Informer series about the Women’s Suffrage Movement and an initiative that includes Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes that will use the lens of history, the fabric of art and culture and the venue of the public square to shine a light into dark places, equipping all with a compass to chart the way forward. The initiative lives in the institutional home of the Washington Informer Charities.
The words of Anna Julia Cooper underscored the mission of Black women in the Suffrage Movement.
Born in Raleigh, North Carolina, in the mid-1850s (historians vary on exactly which year), Cooper was an educator and author. She died in the District of Columbia in 1964 and left a lasting legacy for all women of color, including her classic 1892 book, “A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South.”
Cooper’s words cut through any ambivalence when it came to the struggle of Black women: “Only the Black woman can say when and where I enter in the quiet undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence or special patronage; then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.”
In 1868, Cooper enrolled in the newly established Saint Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute (now Saint Augustine’s University), a school for freed slaves, according to Brittanica.com.
While enrolled at Saint Augustine’s, she had a feminist awakening. Cooper realized that her male classmates were encouraged to study a more rigorous curriculum than were the female students. After that early realization, she spent the rest of her life advocating for the education of Black women, Brittanica.com reported.
In 1877 she married her George Cooper, who died two years later. After her husband’s death, Cooper enrolled in Oberlin College in Ohio, graduating in 1884 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and earning a master’s degree in mathematics four years later.
In 1887 she became a faculty member at the M Street High School (established in 1870 as the Preparatory High School for Negro Youth) in Washington, D.C., according to Brittanica.com.
At M Street, Cooper taught math, science, and Latin. Later, she became the school principal there. But racism reared its head, and the District of Columbia refused to renew her contract despite a stellar career and her successful work at the school.
She would go on to teach for four years at historically Black Lincoln University in Missouri.
Cooper returned in 1910 to teach at M Street, which ultimately became known as Dunbar High School.
In 1925, at age 67, Cooper received a doctorate from the Sorbonne in Paris, having written her dissertation in English and French on slavery.
Cooper remains known for her witty and poignant quotes about the rights of women, slavery, and the plight of African Americans.
“The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class — it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity,” Cooper once said. “We take our stand on the solidarity of humanity, the oneness of life, and the unnaturalness and injustice of all special favoritism, whether of sex, race, country or condition.
“The colored woman feels that woman’s cause is one and universal; and that … not till race, color, sex and condition are seen as accidents, and not the substance of life; not till the universal title of humanity to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is conceded to be inalienable to all, not till then is woman’s lesson taught and woman’s cause won — not the white woman’s nor the Black woman’s, not the red woman’s but the cause of every man and of every woman who has writhed silently under a mighty wrong,” she said.