Annie Lee Cooper: Voting Rights Activist
Updated: Feb 14
Annie Lee Cooper was born into a family of 10 kids in 1910 in Selma, Alabama. When she was 14 years old her sister became ill, so Annie dropped out of school to move to Kentucky to help care for her. She had no idea that Black people could vote until her move to Kentucky, because in 1901 Alabama purged Black people from the rolls by way of poll taxes and literacy requirements. Being in Kentucky and seeing Black people vote made Annie want to vote too.
Through her young life she was able to register and vote in both Kentucky and Ohio so when she moved back to Alabama in 1962 to care for her mother, she was shocked to find out that she had failed the test that decides if you can register there. She did not give up though, one time Annie waited in line at the registrar’s office from 7 am to 4 pm and never had the chance to register. Around this time the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was organizing for voters’ rights. Annie had a job at the Dunn Rest Home, but she also joined the SNCC’s efforts to register Black people to vote.
On October 7, 1963, the SNCC had organized a mass voter registration event that they called, Freedom Day. Around 400 people, including Annie, showed up on the hot southern day to try to register and ended up standing in line for hours. While Annie was waiting in line her boss, Mr. Dunn, saw her and a lady Annie worked with, Elnora Collins, and later terminated them for their attempt at registering to vote. White people in Selma blacklisted both women for the simple act of trying to register to vote which made finding a job extremely difficult for both of them.
On January 25, 1965 Annie was once again in line to try to register to vote. This time the police were brought in to disperse the people and with the police was pro-segregation Sheriff Jim Clark. While calmly waiting in line one of the men with Annie was asked to move by the Sheriff and some officers and when he didn’t the officers tried to assault him. That is when Annie muttered, “Nobody’s afraid of them.” In response to her remark Jim Clark poked her in the neck with his billy club and that is when Annie spun around a clocked Jim Clark so hard he fell to the ground. She was immediately surrounded by officers and arrested for criminal provocation. After the Sheriff threatened to beat her, she ended up being released from jail.
Annie later told Jet magazine, “I try to be nonviolent, but I just can’t say I wouldn’t do the same thing all over again if they treat me brutish like they did this time.”
Her work with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) put her in the circles of Martin Luther King Jr and Rep. John Lewis while also helping to push forward the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
She passed away at 100 years old in November of 2010. Rep. John Lewis described her as, “Upfront, pleasant and…absolutely fearless.”
If you would like to see more of her story Oprah starred in a movie about Annie Lee Cooper called, Selma.
**Information sourced from https://snccdigital.org/people/annie-lee-cooper/ ; https://www.southernliving.com/culture/annie-lee-cooper **