Important Women of History: Anna J Cooper Haywood

Anna J. Cooper Haywood, A Woman from Raleigh We Should Know

In honor of Women’s Month I want to share a story about an amazing woman that I discovered on my way to work one day. I was driving to my office in downtown Raleigh, while stopped at a red light, I noticed a historical marker on the side of the street. It stated:  “Anna J. Cooper, educator, orator and early black feminist…” I made a note to myself to look up more information about Anna. To my amazement here is what I discovered! 

Photographer: Dinikqua Jackson, Taken: May 23, 2016

Anna was born in 1858 in Raleigh, North Carolina. She was born a slave and worked in the home of Wake County landowner George Washington Haywood. She worked with her mother and two brothers. George Haywood was the son of John Haywood, the state Treasurer for North Carolina for forty years. Anna’s father is either George or his brother Dr. Fabius Haywood. 

In 1865, at the age of six years old, Anna was emancipated as other slaves in the South. Anna continued to work for the Haywood Household as did many slaves, for there was little choice for employment. Three years later when Anna was nine, she received a scholarship to attend Saint Augustine’s School (which is now a University in Raleigh). The school was founded by an Episcopal priest so that former slaves and their families could receive an education. 

Anna furthered her education at Oberlin College which was one of the first colleges to allow freed men and women to earn a degree. Then Anna went on to receive a PhD from the University of Paris-Sorbonne and was the fourth African American woman to do so!

Anna Julia Cooper
Courtesy Oberlin College Archives

In addition, she wrote a book titled A Voice from the South, which is about Black feminism. The book’s central thesis was that the educational, moral and spiritual progress of black women would improve the general standing of the entire African-American community. She believed that the violent nature of men often runs counter to the goals of higher education, so it is important to foster more female intellectuals because they will bring more elegance to education. Here is a more in depth look at her writings.

When I think about Anna I think about Psalm 139, where the psalmist describes this realization that God created them and knows them so well. Anna despite her circumstances lives out this realization of who God created her to be. She was a teacher, an author, a speaker and a Black liberation activist.  She understood that when we lift up all people, then we all benefit. She understood and lived out this idea that we are to live in community and work together for the common good of all people. 

I am grateful for her life and words, and for the ways that she speaks up for those who have been marginalized throughout history. Anna Cooper Haywood is a woman we need to know!

Rev. Linda Harding is a pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  She is the Mission Immersion Director of Raleigh Youth Mission.

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