Stamp honors woman of letters

Staff WriterJune 19, 2009 

— African-American scholar, feminist and civil rights activist Anna Julia Cooper was a graduate of and professor at St. Augustine's College in Raleigh more than a century ago.

Yet, the mark she left on the historically black college was felt on campus this week. On Thursday, the college and the U.S. Postal Service dedicated a postage stamp crafted in her honor at a ceremony celebrating her life and legacy.

"Dr. Cooper left an indelible impression on her countless number of students and women during her lifetime," Raleigh Postmaster Howard Sample said at the event, on the grounds of her alma mater, just outside the Martin Luther King Jr. Reception Center. "Now, 125 million impressions of this woman will carry your cards and letters across the world."

The postal service held a similar ceremony introducing the 44-cent stamp bearing Cooper's portrait last week in Washington, D.C. The stamp is the 32nd annual entry in the U.S. Postal Service's Black Heritage Stamp Series, begun in 1978 to commemorate the achievements of African-Americans.

Cooper was born into slavery in 1858. At the age of 66, she become only the fourth known African-American woman to have earned a doctoral degree at that time. She also published numerous papers and books making the case for civil rights for African-Americans in the United States and lived to be 105.

Those at Thursday's ceremony said her accomplishments were particularly notable as an African-American woman living and working in the South.

"I wonder what she would have thought about how far we've come and how far we still have to go," said Elizabeth Fournier, a professor of political science at St. Augustine's.

Many in attendance who were alumni, students and professors at St. Augustine's were proud to have one of their own recognized by the postage series.

"One hundred and twenty eight years after her graduation from St. Augustine's, it is imperative the Falcons of 2009 and beyond dedicate ourselves to the endless opportunity to produce scholars, global leaders and community organizers," said Everett Ward, chair of the college's board of trustees.

Sheryl Thomas, a 1990 graduate of St. Augustine's and director of a church summer camp, brought her elementary school-age charges to the ceremony in hopes they would be inspired by Cooper's story.

"I thought it was important for them to understand the history behind what happened right here in Raleigh and the impact that it has had on the world," she said.

The day's events certainly had the desired effect on 11-year-old Jocelyn Eason.

"[Cooper] made a big change in the world," she said. "She inspires me to go to college."

Cooper is not the first black woman with North Carolina ties to be immortalized on postage. Ella Baker, a graduate of Shaw University in Raleigh, was given the honor as part of the U.S. Postal Service's Civil Rights Pioneers stamp sheet, introduced in February to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The Fayetteville Post Office also hosted a ceremony at Fort Bragg on Thursday for the stamp honoring Bob Hope.

naureen.khan@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4633

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