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Born into slavery, Anna Julia Cooper (1858-1964) earned B.A. and M.A. degrees in the 1880s, as well as a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne (Paris) at age 66, completing a dissertation that offered a radical revision of the Age of Revolution that highlighted the agency of the enslaved. Consistently recognized as a pioneering (if conservative) Black feminist, this essay argues that Cooper was heavily influenced by Black nationalist and Pan Africanist discourses and that Cooper’s contributions to a Black radical intellectual tradition require further attention, particularly work nearer to the end of her career.
Cooper presented papers at the World’s Congress in Chicago (1893) and before the prestigious American Negro Academy (1897). However, she remains best known for her feminist manifesto A Voice From the South By A Black Woman of the South (1892). Cooper’s experiences between 1892 and the 1920s included local, national and international intellectual concern. Her international interest is best symbolized by her tour of Europe (1900)--a trip culminating with her participation in the first Pan African Conference in London, and the dissertation that she defended in France.
Drawing upon Cooper’s personal correspondence, published and unpublished writings, and secondary sources of note, this chapter works in reverse chronological order, beginning in the 1920s with analysis of Cooper’s dissertation project, “The Attitude of France Toward Slavery During the Revolution” (1925) in order to trace how Cooper’s career would seemingly end at the beginning. It analyzes this under-appreciated text’s revolutionary reading of “dependence,” probing its relationship to her earlier views on gender in Voice from the South, and argues that it necessitates a re-evaluation of characterizations of her life and work as essentially conservative. It argues that her dissertation may be read as a practical application of her pan-African views just as W. E. B. Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction (1935) and C. L. R. James’ Black Jacobins (1938) are considered as both historical and political texts and read in relation to their author’s Marxist/Socialist influences.