Raising A Voice In Protest, Issuing A Call to Action

Anna Julia Cooper’s Intersectional Vision

By Professor Vivian M. May (Syracuse University)

July 14, 2016             Picture: Steve Russell/Getty

This article is part of The Critique’s May/June 2016 Issue “Black Lives Matter (Part II): Understanding The New Movement For Racial Justice”

Cooper’s Philosophical Approach

As a Black feminist educator, scholar, and activist, Anna Julia Cooper[1] consistently called for deeper connections between theory and practice. As she explained in 1892, in A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South, “We look within that we may gather together once more our forces, and … address ourselves to the tasks before us” (27).

This philosophical principle was consistent across Cooper’s life’s work: she urged us to “live into” rather than “brood over” the world — to be accountable to others, contest domination, and take up the world’s complex social problems in an active way (Voice 285, 303).

The implications of Cooper’s views for contemporary philosophy, and for this particular issue focusing on the relevance of philosophical work in the face of endemic police violence and murder, are multifold.

Cooper makes clear, time and again, that brutality and inequality, whether on a macro-political scale, or within the micro-political intimacies of everyday life, demand that “head, heart, and hand” (Voice 45) be engaged together. She insisted that we foster collective accountability and practice a politics of solidarity and care she characterized as “mutual succor and defense” (102).

Cooper also suggested that the measure of success for any idea or action should be ascertained by those with the least power, whether at home or abroad. At times, she would draw on a nascent liberation theology view to animate her views. For instance, in her doctoral exams at the Sorbonne (and in relation to her dissertation on the French and Haitian Revolutions), Cooper invoked the Gospel according to Matthew regarding the judgment of nations (25:40, King James version): “Inasmuch as ye have done these things to the least of these my brethren ye have done it to Me” (Cooper, “Equality” 298).

The value of our ideas and the merit of our practices, she argued, cannot not be gauged according to the needs, standpoints, or values of the powerful (i.e., by the racist views of her civilizationist dissertation chair, Célestin Bouglé) but, rather, by reckoning with, and being accountable to, oppressed groups at home and abroad, whether presently or historically (i.e., in this case, she suggested her work was to account for, and be accountable to, the enslaved in Haiti).

In addition, Cooper maintained that analyses aiming to be “purely theoretical or empirical” are not only “devoid of soul” (Voice 37) but tend to be biased, as abstraction relies on omission and generalization, leading to erroneous assumptions and false universalization. The pervasiveness of overt bias, repackaged as objectivity or as a facially neutral social contract (or legal doctrine), helps to explain why, for instance, “the colored woman . . . is confronted by both a woman question and a race problem, and is as yet an unknown or unacknowledged factor in both” (134).

From her earliest writings, Cooper insisted that the “truth from each standpoint be presented…. The ‘other side,’” she argued, “has not been represented by one who ‘lives there.’ And not many can more sensibly realize and more accurately tell the weight and the fret of the ‘long dull pain’ than the open-eyed but hitherto voiceless Black Woman of America” (ii).

Cooper repeatedly illustrated that her lived experience as a Black woman was an important source of knowledge, and that her life, and the voice she had developed and crafted, all “mattered,” materially, ethically, and politically.

Reflecting back on her childhood experience in school at St. Augustine’s in Raleigh, where Cooper was one of two female scholarship students in the inaugural class, and where she later taught as a faculty member, she recalled how she had to fight to take Latin, Greek and mathematics, coursework denied to girls (based on erroneous ideas of biological roles and gendered capacities).

This curriculum was designed to prepare young men for lives in the public sphere, particularly the ministry (eventually, Classics, mathematics, history, and languages and linguistics would become some of Cooper’s academic specialties as a student and educator). St. Augustine’s principal also presumed female students were only in school to find future husbands.

Cooper recalled that the “atmosphere, the standards, the requirements of our little world do not afford any special stimuli to female development. … I constantly felt (as I suppose many an ambitious girl has felt) a thumping from within unanswered by any beckoning from without”(Voice 75-76).

Anticipating the possible accusation that her experiences in school were unique or anomalous, Cooper added: “Now this is not fancy. It is a simple unvarnished photograph, and what I believe was not in those days exceptional in colored schools, and I ask the men and women who are teachers and co-workers for the highest interests of the race, that they give the girls a chance!” (78).

Cooper drew on and theorized from her lived experiences to interrogate oppression: she mocked white solipsism, excoriated the nation’s asymmetrical racial contract, and rejected misogyny across the board. In so doing, she often exposed the false generalizations about gender and sexism gleaned from white women’s lives and the androcentrism at the heart of many analyses of racism drawn from black men’s experiences.

Furthermore, she emphasized, “the whips and stings of prejudice, whether of color or sex, find me neither too calloused to suffer, nor too ignorant to know what is due me” (“Racial” 236).

At the same time, Cooper recognized that her ability to be heard—her cognitive authority—was mitigated by racist and sexist assumptions and by structural power asymmetries that impact knowledge production and circulation. She anticipated that, like Abraham in the biblical parable about the rich man and Lazarus, her voice might not be heard even though she knew well of what she spoke.

She drily remarked that the “King” [i.e., Alexander Crummell (1819-1898)] had already spoken about Black women’s lives in the South, albeit from a limited viewpoint as a Black man (in his influential 1883 pamphlet, “The Black Woman of the South”), but even he had barely been listened to. As a (not the) Black woman of the south, Cooper surmised, “if they hear not him, neither would they be persuaded though one [(i.e., Cooper)] came up from the South” (Voice 24). As Karen Baker-Fletcher explains, “Just as Abraham told the rich man that ‘though one came up from the dead’ none would hear him, Cooper questioned her audience’s ability to hear what she had to say (Baker-Fletcher, 47).

As this example illustrates, Cooper highlighted how knowledge is impacted by power and is socially situated, and she regularly used humor to help get her points across.

As another example, in a 1901 speech exploring the “Negro question,” Cooper sardonically took on the U.S. constitution and, simultaneously, ridiculed the amalgamated voice of numerous white thinkers of her day. Cooper asked, “Is it not a mistake to suppose that the same old human laws apply to these people? Is there not after all something within that dark skin not yet dreamt of in our philosophy? Can we seriously take the Negro as a man ‘endowed by [his] Creator with certain unalienable rights’ such as ‘Life, Liberty, the pursuit of Happiness’ and the right to grow up, to develop, to reason and to live his life?” (“Ethics” 212, italics added).

Cooper further suggested that disembodied, one-dimensional models of thought are one of the fundamental building blocks of supremacist “monomania” and violence (Voice 219), buttressing lynching and mob rule at the turn of the last century and aiding and abetting Hitler’s power in the 1930s (“Hitler”).


Cooper On The State’s Role In Perpetuating Violence And Supremacy

Across her body of work, Cooper laid bare numerous ways in which everyday citizens are encouraged to be complicit in the systemic obliteration and destruction of human life. Furthermore, she frequently emphasized the “great gulf between [the nation’s] professions and its practices” (“Ethics” 206) and showed how the “democratic” state has sanctioned such complicity and supported violation and exploitation by encoding them in its foundational documents (and yet, at the same time, has repeatedly denied such contradictions at the heart of democracy).

For instance, although the U.S. constitution holds forth the promise (and potential) of equality, it also authorized inequity and hierarchy as core practices (if not fundamental principles) from the start.

Discussing the founding fathers, Cooper delineated how “these jugglers with reason and conscience” declared “a religion of sublime altruism” while trading in slaves. Furthermore, they engaged in “forcing [slaves] with lash and gun to unrequited toil, making it a penal offense to teach them to read the Word of God,” and raped black women while “pocketing the guilty increase, the price of their own blood in unholy dollars and cents” (“Ethics” 207).

Significantly, Cooper focused on the important role of systemic ignorance, showing it to be neither innocent nor harmless: in many ways, in pointing to a range of specious practices that continue to make a mockery of democracy, she anticipated Charles Mills’ (1997) work on the “racial contract” and epistemologies of ignorance (though Cooper’s analysis of the racial contract accounts for its gendered nature: race and gender operate as simultaneous and interwoven sites of opacity and coercion within the social contract).

In her doctoral exams, for instance, Cooper linked deep-seated problems in France’s celebrated revolution and republican origins (dependent on Haitian slave labor and exploitative capitalism) with U.S. history and particularly the constitution. She contended, “In drawing up the Constitution…, the words ‘Slave,’ ‘Slavery’ and ‘Slave Trade’ were carefully avoided although evidently present in the conscious minds of all” (“Legislative” 300). She added, “the fact of slavery as a skeleton at the feast had already become an embarrassment…, requiring and exacting many compromises, much confusion in trying to reconcile the convenience of the moment with those principles elaborated in the Declaration of Independence” (301).

Cooper reminded her audience that the fundamental violations that allowed for legalized slavery have not been eradicated, but have transmogrified and live on in new ways.

For instance, she pinpointed how legally and socially sanctioned mob rule and lynching have been used to terrorize and destroy African American communities: “Ku Klux beatings with re-enslaving black codes became the sorry substitute for the overseer’s lash and the auction block” during Reconstruction (Cooper “Ethics” 210-211).

In other words, in additional to her historical work unearthing the origins of condoned violence and brutality within celebrated democratic states, Cooper confronted the law’s contemporary (i.e., not just historical) role in perpetuating dominance, showing how the U.S. legal system continues to be openly prejudiced and how its highest leaders not only tolerate but help support white supremacy.

To illustrate, she discussed a white mob lynching a black man just “a stone’s throw” away from President McKinley and his presidential train, on tour. Drawing connections between the fanfare accompanying the president’s tour train, and another nearby set of “Excursion trains with banners flying” for the “holiday festival” celebrating the lynching that was to follow the “hanging” with a “burning,” Cooper drew parallels between the state, the president’s willful ignorance, and unbridled white supremacist violence (“Ethics” 210). Although a “shiver ran thro the nation at such demoniacal lawlessness,” Cooper clearly found the public’s sudden horror to be hypocritical.

Furthermore, the Attorney General, Cooper contemptuously observed, stood apart from the fray with ostensible objective detachment. His “cool analysis of the situation” led to the bogus and biased “legal opinion that the case ‘probably had no Federal aspects!’” (ibid).

Carefully mapping out the machinations, denial, contradictions, and violence needed to maintain the mythos of a beneficent democracy and of a nation of free and equal citizens, Cooper exposed how hierarchy and supremacy are carefully constructed and continually enforced: they are not the outcome of God’s will or of any inherent raced or gendered “nature.”

In addition to her extensive critique of the law as a pivotal site where asymmetry and brutality are both crafted and condoned, Cooper saw education as another site where the state tried to exert its force and to normalize inequality under the guise of freedom and in the name of the pursuit knowledge.

For instance, in a rare discussion of her “racial philosophy” later in life, Cooper firmly rejected any conciliatory “solid hand and separate fingers” model of Black education and civic life, as presented by Booker T. Washington in his 1895 Atlanta Compromise address (hence her “hand and fingers” reference) (Cooper, “Racial” 237).

In an article about “Angry Saxons” and Black education in the NAACP’s The Crisis magazine a few years later, Cooper again dispensed with this “colored leader of white American thought” (“Angry Saxons” 259). She clearly found Booker T. Washington’s mollification strategy simply colluded with supremacy by encouraging “the domineering thumb to over ride and keep down every finger weak enough to give up the struggle” (“Racial” 237, italics original).

Cooper knew that fostering a two-tiered educational system, in which an entire race of people was to be schooled for acquiescence and “servitude,” or “being used” (“Racial” 236), which she took Washington to be supporting, simply maintains and reinforces structural inequality rather than achieving her vision of meaningful public “service” and full citizenship (Voice 197).[2]

Though Cooper recognized how schooling can operate as a site of violation and enforced submission, she also saw education as having liberatory and radical potential. This is why she called for access to a full education, including post-secondary education, as one form of reparations that should be offered universally to all African Americans: after “two hundred and fifty years digging trenches, building roads, tunneling mountains, clearing away forests, cultivating the soil in the cotton fields and rice swamps till fingers dropped off, toes were frozen, knees twisted,” it is the least the state could do, she argued (Voice 193).

Cooper also relentlessly pursued her own education despite many hurdles. And, earning graduate degrees and becoming an internationally renowned educator and author did not protect her from state coercion with regard to Black education and comprehensive curricula.

For instance, she fought hard (though unsuccessfully) to keep her position as principal of the M-Street high school (see Hutchinson; May, 2007) and, two decades later, to have her hard-won Sorbonne doctorate recognized in terms of her salary and compensation by the D.C. School Board (see “Letter”). In the 1930s, after retiring from M-Street and becoming President of Frelinghuysen, Cooper then battled new federal accreditation guidelines for colleges and universities (Frelinghuysen was denied full accreditation, like many other historically Black colleges, women’s colleges, and other educational institutions).

Cooper’s larger educational philosophy was much in line with her political philosophy. She believed that the full person needed to be nurtured in a multidimensional way and all persons educated without curricular restrictions based on race, class, or gender. Structural changes would be needed for individual flourishing to take place, including “hammering down some of those hideous handicaps which hamper whole sections of a community through the inequalities of environment, or the greed of the great” (Cooper “Social Settlement,” 217).

But Cooper recognized that in addition to addressing the physical needs and the literal hunger that comes from structural inequality, there is also “the hunger of the eye for beauty, the hunger of the ear for concords, the hungering of the mind for development and growth, [and] the hungering of the soul for communion and love” (Voice 257). Thus Cooper’s “avowal of her life’s work as ‘the education of neglected people’ . . . [and her] reflections on education demonstrated that freedom is the basis of development and education advances its course” (Bonnick 179).

Cooper saw the dangers of internalized oppression as an issue that needed to be addressed both in terms of the role of African American literature, music, and folklore, but also educational and curricular work. Cooper wrote, “Don’t let them argue as if there were no part to be played in life by black men and black women, and as if to become white were the sole specific panacea to all the ills that flesh is heir to—the universal solvent for all American’s irritations” (Voice 172).

Later in life, Cooper called on Black educators to use critical pedagogy and a culturally relevant curriculum to nurture Black children—this would better prepare them to reject second-class citizenship by naming codes of power, providing concrete historical examples, and fostering critical consciousness.

“Don’t let them argue as if there were no part to be played in life by black men and black women, and as if to become white were the sole specific panacea to all the ills that flesh is heir to—the universal solvent for all American’s irritations” (Voice 172)”.

A socially aware educational approach, in other words, had a clear role to play in preparing Black youth to advocate for and pursue full liberation in all dimensions of life (see Cooper “Humor,” “On Education,” “Racial,” and “Sketches”).


Cooper’s Intersectional Demands For Solidarity And Justice

Across her life’s work, Cooper refused to rank identities and refuted any model of analysis and action that supported a hierarchy of oppressions. Arguing that “No one is or can be supreme” (Voice 164), she anticipated what today would be called an intersectional approach (Gines 2011; Glass 2004; May 2012, 2014, 2015).

Cooper’s insistence on attending to the gendered particulars of racism and the raced particulars of sexism, and thus combatting sexism and racism simultaneously, is especially prominent in her earlier work. Choosing one identity or one form of oppression as primary is both foolish and absurd, she argued: it is akin to trying to liberate the body politic by means of a lawsuit that divides the body into opposing sides, “Eye vs. Foot.” She asked, then, “Why should woman become plaintiff in a suit versus the Indian, or the Negro or any other race or class who have been crushed under the iron heel of Anglo-Saxon power and selfishness?” (Cooper Voice 123).

From this standpoint, understanding and contesting racism, she argued, cannot happen via an androcentric model and true freedom cannot be realized if anti-racist efforts still support domination in other contexts (e.g., sexism, or capitalism, or imperialism).

Addressing Black men directly on this issue, Cooper argued that to aim to “build up a . . . manhood without taking into consideration our women” would be as futile as trying to “grow trees from leaves” (Voice 78). Any such approaches to race liberation, and to defining what counts as racism and who speaks for/represents ‘the race’ in terms of knowledge, experience, and political vision, would simply perpetuate a “one-sided masculine definition” of womanhood (50-51), as if a woman were simply a “mere toy,” with “no God-given destiny, no soul with unquenchable longings and inexhaustible possibilities – no work of her own to do and give to the world – no absolute and inherent value, no duty to self” (65).

Such simplistic visions of the future and of the race, she suggested, were biased in terms of their misogyny and elistism. Those fighting for liberation must become more nuanced in their views and practices, in particular by attending to class privilege (elitism), to the raced nature of gender and gendered experience, and the gendered nature of racialized experience.

Although Black men cannot (and do not), alone, “represent” the “race” (30), they often try to do so. Furthermore, Black men frequently downplay or even deny the fundamental enmeshment of race and gender, leaving “the colored woman . . . hampered and shamed by a less liberal sentiment and a more conservative attitude on the part of those for whose opinion she cares most” (135).

In advocating for what she described as the “due consideration” of all persons (Voice 117), Cooper also took on white women activists and feminist leaders for their racism. Consider her witty critique of a Kentucky women’ s club, “Wimodaughsis (… a woman’s culture club whose name was created using the first few letters of wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters),” which she sardonically renamed “Whimodaughsis” to emphasize and expose the fact that they “had not calculated that there were any wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters, except white ones” (81).

Cooper was especially outraged by white feminist leaders who engaged in “disparagement” of other vulnerable and powerless groups, including minority and immigrant men and non-white women. Scathingly, she wrote: “It cannot seem less than a blunder, whenever the exponents of a great reform … allow themselves to seem distorted by a narrow view of their own aims and principles. All prejudices, whether of race, sect or sex, class pride and class distinctions are the belittling inheritance and badge of snobs and prigs” (118). “Woman’s cause,” she argued, should never be confused with a “bluestocking debate or an aristocratic pink tea” (123).

Cooper directly critiqued elite white feminists who falsely equated their own needs and interests with a movement that should serve and address all forms of inequality and domination. Not only did she refuse any solipsistic notion of womanhood or feminism as white, she also argued for a multifaceted and intersectional model of liberation: “The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class, – it is the cause of human kind … It is not the intelligent woman vs. the ignorant woman; nor the white woman vs. the black, the brown, and the red, – it is not even the cause of woman vs. man” (Voice 120-121).

Furthermore, Cooper demonstrated how unequal gender roles and inequitable race opportunities are not “natural” states of being, but, rather, political mandates and institutional constructs that must be challenged and dismantled.

Whether through analyzing legalized segregation, historical omission, unequal education, lynching, sexual terrorism, objectifying stereotypes and scientific practices, or within the intimacies of everyday life, Cooper illustrated how racist and sexist norms are taught, legally enforced, and naturalized to such an extent that we often fail to challenge them or, equally dangerously, incorporate these dominant logics into our liberation politics.

Anticipating several aspects of Kimberlé Crenshaw’s groundbreaking 1989 essay, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex,” Cooper noted that black women are “little understood and seldom consulted” (Voice i). She rejected making false choices between “race” or “gender” solidarity in favor of a “both/and” model of coalition. From this standpoint, she argued, “sex, race, country, [and] condition” must all be accounted for — and none must be favored over any other (“Intellectual” 204).

Importantly, Cooper insisted on a global analysis of domination that would account for imperialism, colonialism, capitalism, and the brutalities of conquest and war. Though she is more known for her analyses of racism and sexism, in A Voice and elsewhere she took on a range of interconnected sites of domination.

For instance, she explored how slavery, prison labor (Voice 95), and imperialism lie at the heart of America’s contemporary prosperity: the free market, and republican democracy, ironically hinge on inequity, exploitation, and violence. After all, as history shows, the “desire for quick returns and large profits tempts capital ofttimes into unsanitary, well nigh inhuman investments (130).


Cooper’s Continued Relevance For Resurgent (And Insurgent) Resistance

In contrast to more conventional approaches to philosophical work, legal argument, and social science research, all of which she found too “narrow” and also too amenable to the logics of domination, conquest, and violence, Cooper presented an alternative view of what the “philosophic mind” was capable of and what purpose it could serve.

The analytical and political ideal she promoted was one in which we would aim to more fully understand the interconnected nature of “all prejudices,” acknowledge the locatedness of knowledge, and engage with (rather than deny or ignore) human difference and asymmetrical power relations (Voice 117).

In her view, philosophical practice has a clear role to play in addressing a host of pressing sociopolitical issues. Cooper took on questions of: the injustice of unequal schooling; race- and gender-based unemployment and underemployment; the psychological and social toll (and role) of racist-sexist stereotypes and controlling images; highlighting inequities in terms of access to food, housing, and healthcare; tracing (and contesting) the ongoing imprint of colonialism and slavery in the law and the public imagination; challenging the “logics” of economic exploitation and capitalism; refusing to rationalize chain gang violence and exploitation; inviting her readers to abandon colonized imaginations and internalized oppression; and much, much more.

Cooper recognized that one of the ways systematic oppression operates and continues is by stifling resistance, obliterating alternative ideas, and burying critical voices.

As the title of A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South suggests, in much of her work, Cooper sought to speak up for “muffled” voices (Voice vii), particularly Black women’s, and to focus attention on silenced lives.[3]

In A Voice she riffed across history and pushed against limited frameworks to remind readers of women’s collective contributions, including “Ruth, Naomi, the Spartan women, the Amazons, Penelope, … Joan of Arc … [and] Sappho” (48-49).

Later, in her dissertation, she brought to life the deep impact of slaves’ exploitation and their relentless resistance and desire for freedom on French democracy. She also excoriated colonized imaginations, both in France and in St. Domingue—even by those who were colored [e.g., propertied and slave-owning gens de couleur] or who self-identified politically as “amis des noirs” (see Cooper Slavery and May 2007).

In other words, whether as an historian, community activist, educator, or scholar, Cooper regularly focused on forgotten lives and marginalized histories, locally and globally, showing how they mattered and continue to matter.

Many of Cooper’s ideas about Black lives, particularly Black women’s lives, mattering in the deepest sense can (and should) be drawn on in our current moment, where we face a range of crises. For example, much of her legacy as a black feminist seeking widespread social transformation via an intersectional political approach to justice can be seen, today, in crucial projects such as the #SayHerName initiative of the African American Policy Forum, which draws on Black women’s experiences, political acumen, and lived knowledge to redefine how state violence and policing are named, protested, and contested.

As Kimberlé Crenshaw argues in the brief to the 2015 #SayHerName report Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women, “Although Black women are routinely killed, raped, and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality.”

This omission is highly problematic, not only because of the erasure and silencing it perpetuates, but also because “inclusion of Black women’s experiences in social movements, media narratives, and policy demands around policing and police brutality is critical to effectively combatting racialized state violence for Black communities and other communities of color” (http://www.aapf.org/sayhernamereport/).

Co-author Andrea Ritchie further explains, “Black women are all too often unseen in the national conversation about racial profiling, police brutality, and lethal force.”

In other words, it is imperative that we draw on an intersectional analysis of this national crisis in ways that can better “shine a light on the ways that Black women are policed similar to other members of our communities, whether it’s police killings, ‘stop and frisk,’ ‘broken windows policing,’ or the ‘war on drugs.’”

Ritchie contends that, from an intersectional approach, it is equally necessary to break “open the frame to include other forms and contexts of police violence such as sexual assault by police, police abuse of pregnant women, profiling and abusive treatment of lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming Black women, and police brutality in the context of responses to violence—which bring Black women’s experiences into even sharper focus”.

Like Crenshaw and Ritchie’s generative and crucial work, Cooper, too, refused exclusionary frameworks, pivoted attention toward the relevance and meaning of Black women’s lives, and combatted violent logics and supremacist thinking wherever she found them.

Cooper’s oeuvre offers an important early model of an intersectional political philosophy, which she developed to more meaningfully engage with the varied but equally urgent questions of injustice and inequality that lay before her.

Her larger body of work illustrates the need to draw on philosophical training and educational privileges not only to identify and trace supremacy’s foundational logics, structures, and histories—but also to actively and tirelessly contest them, as her early mantra about “living into” rather than just “brooding over” life suggested.

“Has America a Race Problem?” queried Cooper. “Yes,” she answered. “What are you going to do about it?” (Voice 171, emphasis added). In our current time, then, let us not forget to follow Cooper’s prescient vision of the possibilities for outrage, resistance, and action available to us on a daily basis. As she reminded us, “deciding how best to use … [the] present. . . . is a question to be decided each day by every one of us” (Voice 26, italics added).

Footnotes & References

[1] Bailey, Cathryn. “Anna Julia Cooper: ‘Dedicated in the Name of My Slave Mother to the Education of Colored Working People.’” Hypatia 19.2 (2004): 56-73.

[2] Baker-Fletcher, Karen. A Singing Something: Womanist Reflections on Anna Julia Cooper. New York: Crossroads, 1994.

[3] Bonnick, Lemah. “In the Service of Neglected People: Anna Julia Cooper, Ontology, and Education.” Philosophical Studies in Education 38 (2007): 179-97.

[4] Bouglé, Celestin. Les idées égalitaires; étude sociologique. Paris: F. Alcan, 1899.

[5] Chateauvert, Melinda. ‘The third step’: Anna Julia Cooper and Black education in the District of Columbia, 1910–1960. In Black Women in United States history, vol. 5. Ed. Darlene Clark Hine. Brooklyn: Carlson, 1990.

[6] Cooper, Anna Julia. “Angry Saxons and Negro Education.” 1938. Lemert and Bhan 259-61.

—-. L’Attitude de la France à l’égard de l’esclavage pendant la Révolution. Paris: impr. de la cour d’appel, L. Maretheux, 1925.

—-. “The Ethics of the Negro Question.” 1902. Lemert and Bhan 206-15.

—-. “Equality of Races and the Democratic Movement.” 1925. Lemert and Bhan 291-98.

—-. “Hitler and the Negro.” 1942 (?). Lemert and Bhan 262-65.

—-. “The Humor of Teaching.” 1930. Lemert and Bhan 232-35.

—-. “The Intellectual Progress of the Colored Women in the United States since the Emancipation Proclamation: A Response to Fannie Barrier Williams.” 1893 Lemert and Bhan 201-05.

—-. “Legislative Measures Concerning Slavery in the United States: 1787–1850.” 1925. Lemert and Bhan 299–304.

—-. Letter to Mr. Wilkinson, 5/24/26. Lemert and Bhan 332-35.

—-. “My Racial Philosophy.” 1930. Lemert and Bhan 236-37

—-. “The Negro’s Dialect.” 1930s (?).Lemert and Bhan 238-47.

—-. “On Education.” 1930s (?). Lemert and Bhan 248-58.

—-. “Sketches from a Teacher’s Notebook: Loss of Speech Through Isolation.” 1923 (?). Lemert and Bhan 224-29.

—-. Slavery and the French and Haitian Revolutionists. 1925. Ed. and Trans. Frances Richardson Keller. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006.

—-. “The Social Settlement: What It Is, and What It Does.” 1913. Lemert and Bhan 216-23.

—-. “Souvenir.” (printed for Cooper’s Sorbonne doctoral ceremony at Howard) 1925. Lemert and Bhan 339-41.

—-. “The Third Step.” (privately printed autobiographical booklet). 1945-1951 (?). Lemert and Bhan 320-30.

—-. A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South. 1892. New York: Oxford UP, 1988.

[7] Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum (1989): 139-168.

[8] Crenshaw, Kimberlé and Andrea J. Ritchie. SAYHERNAME: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women. African American Policy Forum (AAPF.org) and the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies, Columbia University: 2015. (For access to the brief and the full report, go to: http://www.aapf.org/sayhernamereport/)

[9] Crummell, Alexander. “The Black Woman of the South: Her Neglects and Her Needs.” Traps: African American Men on Gender and Sexuality. Eds. Rudolph P. Byrd and Beverly Guy-Sheftall. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2001. 46-57.

[10] Gines, Kathryn T. “Black Feminism and Intersectional Analyses: A Defense of Intersectionality.” Philosophy Today 55.1 (2011): 275-84.

[11] Glass, Kathy L. “Tending to the Roots: Anna Julia Cooper’s Sociopolitical Thought and Activism.” Meridians 6.1 (2004): 23-55.

[12] Hutchinson, Louise Daniel. Anna J. Cooper: A Voice from the South. Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 1981.

[13] Johnson, Karen A. 2009. ‘In service for the common good.’ African American Review 43.1: 45-56.

[14] Lemert, Charles, and Esme Bhan, eds. A Voice from the South. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998.

[15] May, Vivian M. Anna Julia Cooper, Visionary Black Feminist: A Critical Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2007.

—-. “Historicizing Intersectionality as Theory and Method: Returning to the Work of Anna Julia Cooper.” Interconnections: Gender and Race in American History. Ed. Carol Faulkner, Victoria Wolcott, Alison Parker. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2012. 17-50.

—-. “‘Speaking into the void’? Intersectionality Critiques and Epistemic Backlash.” Hypatia 29.1 (2014): 94-112

—-. Pursuing Intersectionality, Unsettling Dominant Imaginaries. New York: Routledge, 2015.

[16] Mills, Charles W. The Racial Contract. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997.

[17] Moody-Turner, Shirley. “A Voice Beyond the South: Resituating the Locus of Cultural Representation in the Later Writings of Anna Julia Cooper.” African American Review 43.1 (2009): 57-67.

—-. “‘Dear Doctor Du Bois’: Anna Julia Cooper, W.E.B. Du Bois, and the gender politics of black publishing.” MELUS 40.3 (2015): DOI10.1093/melus/mlv029.


[1] Born into slavery in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1858, Anna Julia Cooper led a remarkable 105-year life as an educator, scholar, and activist. Rejecting racist, sexist, and economic “discouragements to … higher education” (Cooper Voice 77), she earned her B.A. (1884) and M.A. (1887) at Oberlin, and Ph.D. (1925) at the Sorbonne. After studying at Oberlin, working at Wilberforce in Ohio, and at her alma mater, St. Augustine’s, in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1887 Cooper became a teacher at (and, from 1901-1906, principal of) the “M Street” high school (later named Dunbar High) in Washington, D.C. Cooper’s teaching gained international recognition from Félix Klein, a French priest invited by the U.S. President to tour schools in the nation’s capitol. Resisting Jim Crow educational policies and refuting eugenic notions of white intellectual superiority, Cooper came under the spotlight as principal of M Street, where she fought for the right to offer a full liberal arts and technical curriculum: she won this contest, but lost her position as principal and went to Missouri to teach for a few years at Lincoln University. In 1911, Cooper returned to Washington and to M Street, where she remained until her retirement in 1930, when she took up the presidency of Frelinghuysen (1930-1941), a college for working adults and the only other post-secondary option for African Americans in the area, other than Howard University. In addition to her work as an internationally renowned educator, activist, and orator, Cooper was a groundbreaking scholar and intellectual visionary. Her important black feminist text, A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South (1892), is well known for its insightful analysis of the interlocking nature of race and sex politics. Though less widely known, her 1925 Sorbonne thesis l’Attitude de la France à l’égard de l’esclavage pendant la Révolution (now readily available in English: see Keller 2006), examines the dialogic interplay of French and Haitian politics in the Age of Revolution and exposes France’s deep dependence on slavery and exploitation in its vision of democracy. For more on Cooper’s life’s work and her extensive contributions, see Hutchinson (1981) and May (2007).

[2] Cooper also designed curriculum around this principle. For instance, Karen Baker-Fletcher (1994, 39) references a school pageant, “From Servitude to Service,” focused on key figures in Black history (referred to by Baker-Fletcher, 39). It was probably written in the 1930s.

[3] E.g., see Cooper’s later essay on lynching and the nearly muted victim’s family (“Sketches”), as well as Shirley Moody-Turner’s (2009) insightful discussion of that essay and of Cooper’s evolving ideas about “voice” and being heard.

Vivian May
Vivian May
Vivian M. May, Director of the Humanities Center and Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies at Syracuse University, has published widely on Black feminist intellectual histories, intersectionality, and feminist theory and literature. In addition to numerous articles, she has published two books: the first, Anna Julia Cooper, Visionary Black Feminist (Routledge, 2007), shows how Cooper deserves a much wider audience for her innovative and often daring contributions to a Black feminist public sphere. Her most recent book, Pursuing Intersectionality, Unsettling Dominant Imaginaries (Routledge, 2015), demonstrates how often intersectionality is resisted, misunderstood, and misapplied and pushes for more meaningful engagement with intersectionality’s radical ideas, histories, and justice orientations. She is also President of the National Women’s Studies Association (2014-2016).
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Dmitri Ford carries his own flag that opposes the confederate flag, in front of the South Carolina State House in Columbia, South Carolina July 4, 2015. South Carolina lawmakers plan to introduce a resolution on Tuesday to begin a debate on removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds after the June 17 shooting of nine black churchgoers at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. The man arrested in the shooting, Dylann Roof, is a 21-year-old white man who had posed with a Confederate battle flag in photos posted on a website that displayed a racist manifesto attributed to him. REUTERS/Tami Chappell      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTX1J0STUNITED STATES - JANUARY 01:  Portrait of philosopher Alain Leroy Locke sitting at desk in office at Howard University.  (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)