The Reverend Susan E. Hill, Associate Rector
“Let woman’s claim be as broad in the concrete as the abstract. We take our stand on the solidarity of humanity, the oneness of life, and the unnaturalness and injustice of all special favoritism, whether of sex, race, country, or condition. If one link of the chain is broken, the chain is broken. A bridge is no stronger than its weakest part, and a cause is not worthier than its weakest element. Least of all can woman’s cause afford to decry the weak. We want, then, as toilers for the universal triumph of justice and human rights, to go to our homes from this Congress demanding an entrance not through a gateway for ourselves, our race, our sex, or our sect, but a grand highway for humanity.”— Anna J. Cooper
In 1893, Anna J. Cooper spoke these words in her address to the World’s Congress of Representative Women held in Chicago – and it is remarkable, and frustrating, that they are still so relevant to us today more than 125 years later. Cooper was born into slavery about 1859 in North Carolina, and her father was likely the man who owned her mother. She received a scholarship at nine years old to study at an Episcopal school where she shone as an exceptional student. During her education there, she successfully lobbied to take a Greek class meant only for male theology students, and she ended up marrying the instructor, George A.C. Cooper (who was the second African American ordained to the Episcopal priesthood in North Carolina).
Cooper went on to earn degrees in mathematics from Oberlin College and became only the fourth African American woman to be granted a Doctorate of Philosophy degree, which she received from the Sorbonne in Paris. Through her work as the principal of the African American high school in Washington, DC, the President of Freylinghuysen University, and her public speaking and advocacy, Cooper was a vocal promoter of equal education for African Americans and had a particular concern for the rights of African American women. Clearly her activism kept her healthy – she lived to be 104!
We will remember Anna J. Cooper in the Episcopal Church on February 28, and if you are so inclined, I recommend that you honor her by perusing her collection of essays, A Voice from the South: By a Black Woman of the South, published in 1892. I think you will find her work prescient, inspiring, and surprisingly humorous. Perhaps she can inspire us all to do more to build a grand highway for all humanity!
Almighty God, who inspired your servant Anna Julia Haywood Cooper with the love of learning and the skill of teaching: Enlighten us more and more through the discipline of learning, and deepen our commitment to the education of all your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen