Welcome to another Black History Fun Fact Friday. Today, we meet a woman you may not have heard about but who has done tremendous community work for the betterment of education for African Americans.
Esther Georgia Irving Cooper was born on November 28, 1881, in Cleveland, Ohio. While she’s the daughter of former slaves, her mother’s side of the family gained their freedom sometime before the Civil War and came to Ohio from North Carolina in the 1850s. Esther worked for Harry Clay Smith, a black man of the Ohio legislature and editor of the Cleveland Gazette. Esther later moved to Washington D.C. in 1913 as a stenographer in the Forrest Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It was here that she met her husband, George Posea Cooper, a Tennessee native and veteran of the Philippine Insurrection then serving as a technical sergeant in the Quartermaster Corps at Fort Myer in Alexandria County (after 1920 Arlington County). The couple married on September 10, 1913, and had three daughters. The Cooper‘s valued education and Esther worked part-time as a teacher of English, shorthand, and typing at the National Training School for Women and Girls. She also managed business classes in the adult program of the Arlington County Public Schools as part of the Federal Education Rehabilitation Act.
Esther is best known for her Civil Rights Activism in Arlington County. She became an advocate for the improvement of African American education after deciding not to send her children to Arlington’s black schools because of the poor upkeep. She also took part in many community improvement organizations, lobbied on behalf of the Citizens Committee for School Improvement, and helped organize the Jennie Dean Community Center Association, a women’s group that raised money to purchase land for a recreation center open to African Americans.
Esther also served as president of the Kemper School Parent-Teacher Association, fought to establish an accredited junior high school, and organized and led the Arlington County branch of the NAACP. Under her leadership, the Arlington NAACP launched a court case challenging inequalities in the county’s high school facilities. The group’s efforts culminated in Carter v. School Board of Arlington County (1950), in which the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the county’s separate high schools constituted unlawful racial discrimination.
I love shedding light on the Esther’s of the world because they are not the same ten black leaders we’ve heard about and we hear about repeatedly. These unfamiliar faces help us understand just how powerful our contributions have been to the world as there are so many who are unknown and unrecognized, their names left out of the history books, school curricula, and Google searches. The best way to honor those who have put in great work on behalf of bettering our communities is to act. To pick up the mantle and do what we can from our corners of the world. To use whatever skill, whatever talent, whatever gifts we’ve been given to do our part. The best way to honor anyone we feel has contributed anything significant to this world is to do the work needed to move forward and to take the time to appreciate and to honor those individuals who are still alive and who are working. Let’s not wait until their deaths to support fully. Let us do that now, today, while they live, and let us help them in their endeavors in whatever way we can according to the gifts we have been given. Let us give people their flowers now who deserve them. The next day is not promised. Let us not wait.
Esther did the work. May we do the same, in whatever capacity to which we are able.