Although Anna Julia Cooper was recently commemorated with a U.S. postage stamp, and her words appear on U.S. passports, too few know about her.
Born into slavery in 1858 to Hannah Stanley Haywood, Cooper entered the first class at St. Augustine’s in Raleigh post-emancipation. She later graduated from Oberlin in 1884 with Mary Church Terrell and Ida Gibbs Hunt and became a renowned teacher and controversial principal at the M Street high school in Washington, D.C., the nation’s largest African American high school. Cooper refused racist textbooks and successfully fought to keep a comprehensive curriculum: she rejected a system in which an entire race of people would be schooled for second-class citizenship. She developed culturally relevant curricula, opposed standardized tests, and believed that education should make the disenfranchised “ready to serve the body politic” by fostering intellectual curiosity, political consciousness and resilience: A “neglected people … must be fitted to make headway in the face of prejudice …”