- PrefaceAnna Julia Cooper: A Voice beyond the South
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Two thousand eight marked the sesquicentennial of the birth of Anna Julia Cooper. To celebrate this event, with recognition also of the one-day symposium held at Penn State University, African American Review is publishing this Special Section exploring the life and legacy of this seminal African American thinker and community advocate.
Cooper has long been recognized for bringing attention to the specific challenges black women face and the unique perspectives they offer on the quest for equality and justice in the United States. Her succinct statement that African American women are confronted with both "a woman question and a race problem" (Cooper, "Status of Woman" 134), and her often quoted proclamation that "only the BLACK WOMAN can say 'when and where I enter … the whole Negro race enters with me,'" have become emblematic of her intersectional approach to race, class and gender (Cooper, "Woman-hood" 31). Her 1892 treatise, A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South, has been widely recognized as a foundational text of black feminist thought and has garnered significant attention from scholars and critics. In part, this special section reassesses A Voice for its many contributions to black feminist genealogies and African American traditions of scholarship and activism. At the same time, however, the contributors consider how A Voice has served as both foundation and jumping-off point for many of the later developments in Cooper's theory and praxis. In examining her later writings, while also probing the impact A Voice has had on the development of a number of theoretical and practical approaches to social justice, education, community advocacy, feminism, racial advancement and anti-colonialism, the contributors assert that Cooper's impact must be understood both in relation to, but also beyond, her magnum opus. Indeed, Cooper's theories regarding the inseparable nature of race, class and gender in the United States influenced W. E. B. Du Bois, while her transatlantic analyses of the Haitian Revolution put forth in her 1925 dissertation predate the work of better-known postcolonial theorists, such as C. L. R. James. Thus, in addition to being a voice of the South, Cooper also should be acknowledged as a key theorist in the emergence of new forms of black internationalism.1 Similarly, theoretical elements discovered in Cooper's later writings, regarding the political and economic condition of African Americans with derivative approaches to their cultural representation, anticipate foundational ideas in some of today's most important critical race theories—thus revealing another layer in the long and rich genealogy of critical race studies. Furthermore, her innovative approach to adult literacy forces us to rethink the meaning of education in Cooper's model for racial advancement and social reform.
This special section focuses attention on the interdisciplinary reach of Cooper's influence, featuring articles that (1) examine the range of Cooper's social theorizing, especially as related to ethical social relations, racialized domination, diversity and democracy, (2) recognize Cooper's radical approach to education and community advocacy, and (3) treat Cooper as a serious cultural critic keenly aware of the relationship between cultural images and social, political, and economic oppression. The essays in this special section cross disciplinary lines, incorporating diverse fields of inquiry as a way to assess the complexity of Cooper's integrated approach to [End Page 7] scholarship and activism. Beverly Guy-Sheftall's introductory essay surveys the evolution of scholarly criticism on Cooper's life and work. From the black feminist recovery of A Voice, to the more recent attempts to grapple with Cooper's ostensibly middle-class sensibilities, to the rise of what Guy-Sheftall remarks can now be considered "Cooper studies," her essay maps the significant junctures in Cooper criticism, while simultaneously illuminating the silences and gaps in critical treatments of Cooper's work.
Drawing on a range of Cooper's writings, from essays and speeches to her dissertation as well as reflections on her dissertation defense, Vivian May's essay explores how Cooper incorporated...