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May 20, 2009
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Alumna Honored with National Postal Stamp
RALEIGH—Saint Augustine’s College will celebrate famed alumna and former teacher, Dr. Anna Julia Haywood Cooper, in whose honor a United States postal stamp will be released, with a special dedication event on the campus on June 18 at 11:30 a.m. Dr. Cooper, born into slavery, was a quiet feminist, civil rights activist and scholar who—after Emancipation— tutored at Saint Augustine’s College Normal School at the early age of eight. Her life of 105 years was filled with accomplishment, to include her graduation from Saint Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute, Oberlin College, and the completion of her doctoral studies and dissertation at Gilde Internationale in Paris, then at Columbia University. At the age of 66, she was only the fourth known African-American woman to earn the doctorate degree and among the first women to do so in France. She worked her way through school, and raised two foster children while in her forties. She then adopted her half brother’s five orphaned grandchildren (ages six months to twelve years) when she was in her late fifties. She also wrote and presented a paper entitled, “The Negro Problem in America” in London at the first Pan-African Conference.
Betsy Shaw, a 31-year volunteer tour guide with the Raleigh cemetery, plans to attend the event out of sheer admiration for Dr. Cooper.
“I knew that she was very distinguished and courageous. She was an early forerunner for all of us…during a time when we women didn’t do much. I just think it took so much courage,” said Shaw, who was instrumental in raising the money for a headstone plaque for Dr. Cooper’s unmarked grave. Shaw’s involvement in this endeavor is included in a Smithsonian publication that accompanied an exhibit at the National Museum of American History and the Anacostia Community Museum about Dr. Cooper.
So courageous was this Saint Augustine’s school alumnus that she took on the school board of Washington, D.C., when they decided to dilute the curriculum for African-American children based on the thought that they could not learn as easily as their White counterparts. Dr. Cooper asserted that this was unjust and unlawful: she too, not just her White colleagues, was preparing her students for Yale and Harvard. As a result of the dispute, she was dismissed as principal, but she landed on her feet and became chair of languages at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, then returned to M Street where she had served as principal and as a Latin teacher. During her latter years, she also served as president of a university which specialized in adult education and evening classes.
Cooper not only paid for her husband’s headstone, but purchased and dedicated one of the stained glass windows in the College’s Historic Chapel in honor of her husband, George A. C. Cooper, also an alumnus. She is known for her book, A Voice From the South, and her famous quote: "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.” The quote is included on every U.S. passport.