Education is the key to success

Published 5:00 pm Monday, March 18, 2024

I was asked recently if I could go back in time and have dinner with someone who made great history in Washington, who would that be? I thought for a while and answered “it would be someone who had a tremendous impact on the educational community in Washington. That person, actually persons, would be James Edward and Laura Johnson Cooper.

The Cooper’s lived on what was called ‘Prosperity Row’ also better known as Gladden Street. Local Black leaders renamed it Prosperity Row because some of Washington’s most prominent Blacks lived on Gladden Street. The Cooper’s lived at the corner of Gladden and Seventh Streets with their 10 children.

Mr. Cooper was well-known throughout North Carolina and the nation. He was called a ‘true pioneer’ here in Washington as he was a noted community and civic leader. He was the chairman of the committee that hosted one of Washington’s largest Emancipation Day Events in January 1896.

He was the leader for the Black Democrat Party in 1894, and he founded a Black Boy Scout troop in Washington. He was the President of the Black School’s Parent Teacher Association. He was on the founding Board of the I. B. Turner Library, and he was one of Washington’s most prominent businessmen. He owned a metal working shop for 30 years. It was at that shop on Third Street that he made the tin ornaments and stars for Washington’s first outdoor public Christmas tree in 1935. He also owned a grocery store next to his home on Gladden Street.

Despite all he accomplished, he was the proudest of his wife Laura and his children.

He and Laura had only two years of schooling after they completed second grade, but determined their children would have so much more.

Laura was noted as being “always at her husband’s side” while she worked tirelessly in every effort to see that their children excelled in academics. Many times, late into the night, Mr. and Mrs. Cooper would listen to their children read historical accounts, recite poems, diagram sentence structure, unravel the mysteries of science and solve math problems. They encouraged their children to the highest academic levels possible.

Their efforts paid off in abundance as by the time of their deaths, Mrs. Cooper in 1950 and Mr. Cooper in 1951, all ten of their children had obtained college degrees from outstanding Black Universities. Five of the children had also earned master’s degrees. All went into some form of teaching, educational administration, social work and civic administration.

One of their sons, George Clinton Cooper, became one of the U.S. Navy’s first African American Ensign Officers as one of the ‘Golden Thirteen.’ George, after his military service, directed the trade school at Hampton University. He later moved to Ohio where he continued to work in education and urban administration.

Jet Magazine, a national African American magazine, noted in 1951 while listing his death, that Mr. James Cooper won national attention by putting all 10 of his children through college. And some locals stated he had a citation from President Harry Truman honoring the accomplishment.

I am so inspired by Mr. and Mrs. Cooper’s love for education, I would have loved to have met them personally and thank them for inspiring an entire community and nation including myself.

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the co-curator of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.