On pages 26 and 27 of the USA passport, there is a quote by a woman named Anna Julia Cooper. It says,

“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.” – Anna Julia Cooper

If anyone understood a passion for freedom, it was this woman, an African-American child of slavery. 

Born August 10, 1858 in Raleigh, North Carolina, her mother was a slave woman named Hannah Stanley Haywood and her father was her white master, George Washington Haywood. Set free by Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Anna enrolled in St. Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute for free blacks at the age of nine. In 1877 she married a fellow St. Augustine graduate and instructor named George Cooper, who died only two short years later, leaving the young bride a widow. Receiving a full scholarship to Oberlin College, Anna worked to receive a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree, and finally began her work as a teacher for Washington DC’s only black high school, M Street School, in 1887.

In 1892, Anna wrote the first of the several books she would write throughout her lifetime. A Voice From the South urged the country to protect the future of the young black girls who lived in the Southern states. She knew that the African-American community would be greatly benefited by the progress and education of its women. She also saw the peculiar and overwhelming challenges facing the young black women in her day, and she understood them as being so very similar to those she had experienced as she struggled to make a future for herself in post-slavery America. Throughout her time at St. Augustine’s, Anna had been frustrated by the discouragement she faced against taking higher-level classes. “The Ladies’ Course” was the scholastic track reserved for women, and female students were hindered from pursuing a four-year university education. She had to fight in order to attend classes typically reserved for men, such as Greek.

“I would beg, however, with the Doctor’s permission, to add my plea for the Colored Girls of the South:–that large, bright, promising fatally beautiful class that stand shivering like a delicate plantlet before the fury of tempestuous elements, so full of promise and possibilities, yet so sure of destruction; often without a father to whom they dare apply the loving term, often without a stronger brother to espouse their cause and defend their honor with his life’s blood; in the midst of pitfalls and snares, waylaid by the lower classes of white men, with no shelter, no protection nearer than the great blue vault above, which half conceals and half reveals the one Care-Taker they know so little of. Oh, save them, help them, shield, train, develop, teach, inspire them! Snatch them, in God’s name, as brands from the burning! There is material in them well worth your while, the hope in germ of a staunch, helpful, regenerating womanhood on which, primarily, rests the foundation stones of our future as a race.”  -“A Voice From the South: By A Woman from the South”, 1892

The year 1915 found Anna working on receiving her doctorate from Cambodia College, when her half-brother passed away and his five orphaned grandchildren were left homeless. Anna ended her studies in order to adopt them. But ten years later, in 1925, Anna at last received her Ph. D in history from the University of Paris-Sorbonne. She was the fourth African-American woman in history to receive a doctorate.

All throughout Anna’s life, she fought for freedom, for equality, for opportunity for all. Her insatiable love of learning proved to a racism-encrusted nation that black women were intelligent and capable of higher education. Her writings gave a voice to those who had no voice. She was a true lady, with a gentle but earnest heart. She listed as her greatest passion: “education for the underprivileged”.

Most of all, Anna Julia Cooper had a passion for freedom. Her words, enshrined in our American passport, came from a woman who knew the true value of liberty. Born at the dusk of slavery in 1858, she lived to see the dawn of the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. and others who carried the torch she and other freed slaves from the late 19th century had lighted. She died in 1964, one hundred and five years old, leaving behind a legacy of freedom for those who suffered most in this “land of the free”. She was born a slave, and died a free woman. More than anyone else, she knew how priceless liberty truly was, and she wanted that liberty and privilege for everyone, not only in America, but all throughout the world. She was a child of independence who desired only for the whole world to become aware of its true birthright…”the birthright of humanity”. 

Resources:  

  1. “Anna Julia Cooper” http://www.gwu.edu/~e73afram/be-nk-gbe.html
  2. “Women’s Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society: Anna Julia Cooper” http://www.webster.edu/~woolflm/cooper.html
  3. “(1893) Anna Julia Cooper, ‘Women’s Cause is One and Universal’” http://www.blackpast.org/?q=1893-anna-julia-cooper-womens-cause-one-and-universal
  4. “Anna J. Cooper” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Julia_Cooper
  5. “Anna Julia Cooper Quotes” http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/a/anna_julia_cooper.html

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