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Anna J. Cooper (Anna Julia), 1858-1964
A Voice from the South
Xenia, Ohio: The Aldine Printing House, 1892.


A Voice from the South (1892) is the only book published by one of the most prominent African American women scholars and educators of her era. Born a slave, Anna Julia Haywood Cooper lived to be 105. She became the fourth African American woman to earn a doctoral degree, earning a PhD in history from the University of Paris-Sorbonne. She rose to prominence as a member of the Black community in Washington, D.C., where she served as principal at M Street High School, during which time she wrote A Voice from the South. In it, she engages a variety of issues ranging from women's rights to racial progress, from segregation to literary criticism. The first half of her book concentrates largely on the education of African American women. Women, Cooper argues, are essential to "the regeneration and progress of a race," and thus should be brought fully into the education process. She criticizes the Episcopal Church for neglecting the education of African American women, and argues that this is one reason why the Church had struggled to recruit large numbers of African Americans. Cooper considers education to be the best investment for African American prosperity, and cites the African Methodist Church as making great headway with its institutions of learning. Cooper believes that students should receive practical education that will enable them to earn a living, and only those students who show special aptitude or desire should be educated more thoroughly in the humanities.

Cooper expands her examination to include women at large and women's suffrage. She explains that women's representation will result in "the supremacy of moral forces of reason and justice and love in the government of the nation." Likewise, Cooper argues that the institution of segregation damages the nation; that it has an adverse effect on American intellectual and artistic life.

In the second half of her book, Cooper examines a number of authors and their representations of African Americans. Among others, she discusses Harriet Beecher Stowe, Albion Tourgée, George Washington Cable, William Dean Howells, and Maurice Thompson. Cooper reaches the conclusion that an accurate depiction of African Americans has yet to be written, and she calls for an African American author to take up this challenge: "What I hope to see before I die is a black man honestly and appreciatively portraying both the Negro as he is, and the white man, occasionally, as seen from the Negro's standpoint."

Andrew Leiter

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