Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

By Philip S. Foner; Robert James Branham | Go to book overview

129 WOMEN'S CAUSE IS ONE AND UNIVERSAL

Anna Julia Cooper

Following the main address of Fannie Barrier Williams to Chicago's World's Congress of Representative Women on May 18, 1893, Anna Julia Cooper offered a brief but powerful speech on the accomplishments and agenda of African American women. She emphasizes to her predominantly white audience that African American women were "doubly enslaved" before emancipation, denied education, financial resources, civil liberties, and recognition. "We were utterly destitute," she observes. Yet against all odds, she recounts, women of color since the Civil War have established a remarkable record of educational, organizational, and professional achievement.

Cooper was herself a brilliant exemplar of black women's achievement. She was born in slavery in 1858 and survived until 1964, the year after the March on Washington. During the course of her long and active life, she earned her B.A. and M.A. at Oberlin College and in 1925 completed her Ph.D. at the Sorbonne. She spent much of her teaching career as an instructor of Latin and mathematics at Washington's prestigious M Street High School (later Dunbar High School), where she also served as principal from 1902 to 1906.

Cooper traveled around the world to address conferences on issues of education and social justice and in the 1890s emerged as a leader of efforts to combat racist violence and to forge organizational links between African American women and the predominantly white women's rights groups, which often excluded or openly derided them. In the concluding section of her 1893 address to a "representative" congress that almost completely excluded women of color, Cooper appeals to solidarity of interests and commitment, "Women's wrongs are thus indissolubly linked with all undefended woe," she proclaims, and the white woman's cause will not be won until "the universal title of humanity to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is conceded to be inalienable to all."

Cooper's speech text appears in May Wright Sewall, ed., The World's Congress of Representative Women ( Chicago: Rand, McNally, 1894), 711- 15. See also Anna Julia Cooper, A Voice from the South: By a Black Woman from the South ( 1892) ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1988); and Drema Lipscomb, "Anna Julia Cooper," in Richard Leeman, ed., African-American Orators: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1996), 41-50.

The higher fruits of civilization can not be extemporized, neither can they be developed normally, in the brief space of thirty years. It requires

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