Annie Lee Cooper Played a Key Role in Helping Black Americans Win the Right to Vote
The names of Civil Rights leaders are taught in schools, especially Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and Rosa Parks. But there are many others who fought for racial equality. One name that may be less well known is Annie Lee Cooper.
Cooper was born in Selma, Alabama, to a family of ten children in 1910. She dropped out of school in seventh grade and moved to Kentucky to live with her sister. After her mother's health declined, she returned to her hometown in 1962. But when she got back, she was shocked to find out that she wouldn't be allowed to register to vote. An attempt in 1963 organized by Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee led to her being fired from her job.
In January of 1965, she again tried to register to vote at the Dallas County Courthouse when she was stopped by pro-segregation Sheriff Jim Clark.
"I was just standing there when his deputies told a man with us to move, and when he didn't, they tried to kick him," Cooper told the Montgomery Advertiser in 2010. "That's when (Clark) and I got into it."
Clark tapped her with his billy club and she responded with a punch to the jaw.
"I try to be nonviolent but I just can't say I wouldn't do the same thing all over again if they treat me brutish like they did this time," Cooper told Jet magazine.
She was arrested but later released after Clark threatened to beat her. It was her actions, along with her contemporaries, that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In June 2010, she celebrated her 100th birthday. A street in Selma was named Annie Cooper Avenue in her honor. Cooper died in November of the same year. The late Representative John Lewis remembered her as "upfront, pleasant and…absolutely fearless."
In 2014, Cooper's life was portrayed by none other than Oprah Winfrey in film Selma, including the haunting encounter with the police. She was a longtime viewer of the media mogul's show, which convinced Winfrey to portray her. "Ava [DuVernay] said, 'What do you think it would mean to this woman who watched you every day?'" Winfrey told E! Online. "She got me! She got me. So it was like, 'Yeah, maybe I'll do that.'