Ann Nixon Cooper, the 106-year-old black voter picked out by Barack Obama as embodying the spirit of his election victory, is an Atlanta housewife who has overcome personal hardship to raise a family and serve her community.
Mr. Obama said that of all the millions of voters who had cast their ballot Mrs. Nixon Cooper was on his mind, because of the enormous sweep of American history that her long life had witnessed.
“She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons – because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin,” said the president-elect, before a rapturous crowd of more than 125,000 in Chicago’s Grant Park.
“And tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America – the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: ‘Yes we can’.”
The centenarian was born Ann Louise Nixon on January 9 in 1902 in Shelbyville, Tennessee, one of six siblings. When her mother died the brothers and sisters were split up, and Mrs Nixon Cooper was raised by her aunt.
In 1922 at the age of 20 she married Albert Berry Cooper, a dentist from Nashville, Tennessee. The young couple moved to the city of Atlanta, in Georgia, where for a few months she worked as a policy writer for the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, before starting a family.
As her husband’s dentist’s practice prospered, Mrs Nixon Cooper turned to public work, serving for more than 50 years on the board of the Gate City Nursery Association, and helping to found the Girls Club for African-American Youth in Atlanta.
“At a time when women’s voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot,” said Mr. Obama.
Like other black Americans, Mrs. Nixon Cooper would have gained the right to vote a mere 43 years ago, at the age of 63. She was still active in the community, teaching residents to read as part of a tutoring program at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in the 1970s.
In 1980 Mrs. Nixon Cooper’s contribution to welfare and civil rights was recognized by Atlanta’s WXIA-TV which awarded her a community service medal for her activism, working to improve conditions in the African-American community. This was followed in 2002 by the Annie L McPheeters Medallion for community service, awarded by the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History.
“She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that We Shall Overcome,” said Mr. Obama.
“A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change.
Mr. Obama asked what changes and what progress would his own daughters and their children would see if they should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper.
“This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment,” he said.
“This is our time, to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.”[via]