Cooper celebrates 99th

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Gospel music and spirituals played as a star-studded crowd gathered at The Gathering Place Tuesday evening to celebrate the 99th birthday of civil rights figure Annie Cooper.

“I’m very, very excited about it. I feel humble to see people come out and celebrate my 99th birthday,” said Cooper. “I hope I’ll make the other, make it to 100. They said 99 won’t do.”

Before Mayor George Evans had an opportunity to present her a certificate for her birthday milestone, she reflected on the secrets of her longevity. She said having parents who lived long lives — her father died at 85 and her mother reached 105 — was important, but another part is the way a life is lived.

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“The secret to it is trying to do the right thing, treat other people the way you want them to treat you,” said Cooper. “I love everybody, and I believe they love me. I hope I’ll live to make that one more year.”

Cooper, a resident of Ward 8, also received a congratulatory phone call from U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham. Also present were Sen. Hank Sanders, Ward 8 Councilman Corey Bowie, and Ward 3 Councilwoman Susan Keith.

Cooper was a leader of Selma’s civil rights movement. She was fired by Dunn Rest Home in 1964 for participating in voting rights demonstrations, and punched then-Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark on Jan. 25, 1965. The beating she received from Clark and three other officers led to the publication of photos of the damage inflicted on her by the New York Times, and helped draw attention to the struggle.

National Voting Rights Museum and Institute Director Sam Walker said her stand was a turning point in the civil rights struggle.

“The day Mrs. Cooper punched Jim Clark and knocked him down, it had a profound affect on the other people that were in line,” said Walker. “I was told by [fellow civil rights figure] Marie Foster that the men in the line, after they saw Mrs. Cooper knock him down, they were no longer afraid of Jim Clark. It changed his whole demeanor, because people were no longer afraid of him.”

More than 44years later, Cooper smiles at her party and does not display the feelings she felt at that moment. She is too busy chatting with her friends — all insist that “99 ? is not going to do it.”

Nonetheless, it was difficult for those gathered to honor her not to remember her for that January day in 1965.

“She has given great leadership, and I am just delighted to have been a part of her particular efforts in Selma,” said the Rev. Fred Reese. “Many people today are better off today because of the efforts she made, the sacrifices she made, here in Selma. Standing up for what she knew to be right, standing up, unafraid, regardless of the consequences to herself and her family.”