The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class – it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.

–Dr. Anna Julia Cooper

[2] You may recognize this quote from your United States Passport.[3] It is the only quote on this document from a woman, and one of only two from an African-American individual, the other being a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Cooper’s commentary on freedom is taken from an essay entitled “‘Woman versus the Indian’,” included in A Voice From the South, the landmark collection of essays from Dr. Anna Julia Cooper. An African-American scholar and activist, she is not widely known today or mentioned as one of the key figures in African-American literature, even though she was a famous scholar and educator during her lifetime.

Story Map

This story map will examine the changes in Dr. Cooper’s scholarship on race and gender issues over her 105 years, from A Voice From the South to her 1925 dissertation to her articles for The Crisis. Born a slave, Cooper lived through Reconstruction, the suffragist movement, the Progressive era, two World Wars, Jim Crow, and most of the civil rights movement. She was one of the first African-American women to graduate from college and earn her PhD. Ever the educator, she lived in North Carolina, Ohio, Washington, D.C., and Paris. As with any writer, Dr. Cooper’s work changed in accordance with her life, contemporary events, audience, and location. However, her advocacy for race and gender equality remained her main focus throughout her life and writings. We should celebrate Dr. Cooper’s work as an essential step in Black feminist literature.


[1] “Dr. Anna J, Coooper [in academic dress : cellulose acetate photonegative ca. 1923].” Photograph. Washington D.C.: Scurlock Studio, c. 1923. From Smithsonian Institution Archives Center: (accessed June 4, 2018).

[2] Anna J. Cooper, Charles C. Lemert and Esme Bahn, eds., The Voice of Anna Julia Cooper: Including A Voice from the South and Other Important Essays, Papers, and Letters (Lanham, Md.: Rowan & Littlefield, 1998), 106.

[3] Kate Kelly, “Anna Julia Cooper (1858-1964), Only Woman Quoted in Current U.S. Passport,” The Huffington Post, last modified April 12, 2018,

Isabel Reed is a neuroscience major from Portland, Oregon at the University of Southern California. After graduating from USC in 2021, she hopes to attend medical school in order to pursue a career in neurology. As a member of the Thematic Option Honors Program in Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, she is excited to apply this style of interdisciplinary study to the exploration of Black American culture in Paris.

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