African American history is rife with examples of exemplary men and women who have enabled the African race in the country to achieve higher social status and alleviated their position in the society with their tireless efforts. Amongst such personalities is the name of Anna Julia Cooper. Cooper’s mother was a slave woman, and the family was generally emerging from poverty. However, Cooper worked hard and attended school and college thereby increasing her future prospects as a successful student. Just at the age of 10, she was teaching mathematics part-time and learning much from her experiences.
Cooper joined St. Augustine’s College and this was where she realized how the females lacked ambition and drive. She observed that her male classmates were prepared to take up difficult courses and study rigorously. On the other hand, the female students were not too particular about their educational prospects and were not as determined and objective towards their studies. She realized at that point that she needed to change this mindset and trend that was harbored in the minds of her fellow classmates and thereon she decided to take up education as her career in life.
Cooper never remarried after the death of her husband rather she adopted several children including those who were her half-brother’s children. She joined Oberlin College completing her Bachelors and Masters and then taught at a high school. While the major trend that followed in the country was turning towards science subjects, Cooper defied the norm by teaching humanities and the sciences that were actually going to prepare the students to gain admission into the most competitive colleges of the nation, as the students would apply for a liberal arts degree.
She faced much resentment and backlash by speaking against the policy of young black people to receive only vocational training. Cooper believed that they had an equal chance of attaining a college education and adopting any career they wanted, without specificity. She was constantly defamed, and her relationship with her adopted children was used as a tool to prevent her from emerging into the limelight and spreading her activism. Yet she remained firm and did not step back from the position she held. She even went ahead and continued her doctoral studies at Sorbonne.
While much of her contribution lies in the field of education, she is known for the role she has played in organizing what is called the first “Pan-African Congress.” One of her achievements might her work on African American feminism and her feminist writing which defines most of her major achievements. Her most important work is termed A Voice from the South which defines her black feminist thought. Her ideas of feminism rest on the belief that black women need to be raised with the ideas of independence and the ability to think critically on their own. She believed they should guide their own lives and be the agents of change in the society as only they could change their conditions and circumstances.
Cooper is one woman who has impressed me in terms of her aims, confidence, and strength in speaking up against the societal norms of the time and actually adding to the numerous voices of African American people who needed her contribution to living a free life. African Americans are indeed indebted to her for her determination because she spoke up for the entire race, and added a voice for the suppressed women in African American society as well. I find her highly respectable and powerful, and her ambition is very inspiring to me.