She thought it was lovely that president-elect Barack Obama had taken the time to mention her in his speech on election night, and while she reveled in the media attention that followed, she bristled a little bit that all these people thought she was a complete unknown before Mr. Obama called her name.
“I did have a life before that, you know,” she told me Karen Grigsby Bates.
During an interview with Bates, Mrs. Cooper proceeded to have her friends and family pull out photo albums, vintage newspapers and reams of letters to prove it.
There she was with eminent sociologist E. Franklin Frazier, whose landmark 1957 treatise, The Black Bourgeoise, would spark years of public and private debate on class stratification in black America. There she was in a group photo of black Atlanta socialites, her friend Coretta Scott King smiling a few people away from her. Newlyweds Nat and Maria Cole beamed in her den as they went out back to a clubhouse her husband built specifically so she could entertain in the style she thought appropriate.
She worked briefly as a policy writer for Atlanta Life, the big, black-owned hometown business. “They hired me because I had beautiful handwriting,” she said proudly. “If you pull the old policy books, you can see for yourself.” She quit that when she became pregnant with her first child, and stayed home to have and raise three more.
Although she didn’t work for pay, Mrs. Cooper probably spent a full work week volunteering. She started the first black Boy Scout troop in Atlanta, founded several book clubs (and still participated in one until last year), taught fitness classes to senior citizens younger than she until she was 100 and was a literacy tutor at the church her friends, the Reverends Martin Luther King Sr. and Jr, pastored.
She wore heels higher than any I dared to and firmly believed one should capitalize on one’s best assets. “Mine are my legs,” she grinned. “I still got good ones!” And boy, did she.
Mrs. Cooper is gone now, just shy of her 108th birthday. But she enjoyed her life while she lived it. And last summer, as she pointed to the picture that brought her so much attention last year — a picture of her casting her early vote, in person (in high heels, of course) — she leaned over and patted my hand.
“When you think about where we were when I was born and what’s happening now — it’s amazing. I never thought I’d live to see the day a black man might be president. And now here he is, in the White House! America is something, isn’t it
President and first lady Michelle Obama issued the following statement today on Cooper’s death.
Michelle and I wish to express our deepest condolences on the passing of Mrs. Ann Nixon Cooper. From her beginnings in Shelbyville and Nashville, Tenn., to her many years as a pillar of the Atlanta community, Ann lived a life of service. Whether it was helping to found the Girls Club for African American Youth, serving on the board of directors for the Gate City Nursery, working as a tutor at Ebenezer Baptist Church or registering voters, Ann had a broad and lasting impact on her community. I also understand that as a wife, mother and grandmother, Ann was a source of strength for her entire family, and that she always put them first.
Over the course of her extraordinary 107 years, Ann saw both the brightest lights of our nation’s history and some of its darkest hours as well. It is especially meaningful for me that she lived to cast a vote on Election Day 2008, and it was a deep honor for me to mark her life in the speech I delivered that night. It was a life that captured the spirit of community and change and progress that is at the heart of the American experience; a life that inspired — and will continue to inspire — me in the years to come. During this time of sadness, Michelle and I offer our deepest condolences to all who loved Ann Nixon Cooper. But even as we mourn her loss, we will also be rejoicing in all that she meant for her family, her community and so many Americans.
Ann Nixon Cooper, rest in peace.
To Read the obituary, please see Mrs. Cooper’s Obituary at http://febone1960.net/Obituary/
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