UPDATE: The winner is…Roseann Cyngier!
The resilience of the formerly enslaved in the face of societal oppression never ceases to amaze me. Despite violence from groups like the KKK and laws to strip away the rights they’d earned, former slaves refused to be daunted. One of these brave souls was Anna Julia Haywood Cooper.
I learned of Cooper while researching a novella I hope to set in Paris in the 1920s. She received a PhD in history from the Sorbonne in 1924 when she was 66. She had first started her doctoral work in 1914 at Columbia University but had to stop to take care of her siblings upon the death of her mother.
Born into slavery in 1858 in Raleigh North Carolina, Cooper went on to become an author, an educator, and sociologist. She received a scholarship at the age of nine to Saint Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute. She studied there for fourteen years and successfully fought to take classes reserved only for men. She then enrolled in Oberlin College and once again refused to be barred from men-designated courses of study. She graduated in 1884 but after teaching at Saint Augustine’s and Wilberforce College returned to Oberlin and received an M.A. in mathematics in 1888.
Her book, A Voice from the South, published in 1892 is considered to be one of the earliest if not the earliest work advocating education and social uplift of Black women as the way to uplift her race. She is often called the Mother of Black Feminism. That same year she formed the Colored Women’s League with such luminaries as Ida B. Wells, Charlotte Forten Grimke and Mary Church Terrell.
In 1900 Cooper attended the first Pan-African conference in London and presented her paper, “The Negro Problem in America.” She retired from teaching and became president of Frelinghuysen University in 1930. This university was established to help African Americans receive education after working hours so they didn’t have to choose between an education and working to support themselves and their families. When the university could no longer pay its mortgage, she moved the school into her home. She died in 1964 at the age of 105.
When I discover women like Anna Julia Haywood Cooper, these words from Maya Angelou’s poem, “And Still I Rise”, come to mind: “Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave.” Formerly enslaved women like Cooper were their own dream and their own hope. Her example inspires me to reinvent her audacity and resilience in the characters I create in my fiction.
For a chance at a $10 Amazon gift card, share in the comments a woman from history or in your own life who inspires you.
One Breath Away
by Michal Scott
Sentenced to hand for a crime she didn’t commit, former slave Mary Hamilton was exonerated at literally the last gasp. She returns to Safe Haven, broken and resigned to live alone. Never having been courted, cuddled or spooned, Mary now fears any kind of physical intimacy when arousal forces her to relive the asphyxiation of her hanging. But then the handsome stranger who saved her shows up, stealing her breath from across the room and promising so much more.
Wealthy freeborn-Black Eban Thurman followed Mary to Safe Haven, believing a relationship with Mary was foretold by the stars. He must marry her to reclaim his family farm. But first he must help her heal, and to do that means revealing his own predilection for edgier sex.
Then just as Eban begins to win Mary’s trust, an enemy from the past threatens to keep them one breath away from love…
Excerpt from One Breath Away…
The squeak of the indoor pump provided no distraction from the lingering tingle where Eban’s fingers had rested against her spine, where his lips had kissed her hand. She focused on her task to temper her excitement.
Fill the bucket. Lift the bucket. Carry the bucket. Empty the bucket. Fill the bucket. Lift the bucket. Carry the bucket. Empty the bucket.
The pans she filled slowly simmered then steamed on her small, pot-bellied stove.
Her heart seized as she fingered the simple gingham curtains covering Harvest Home’s windows. Harvest Home’s humble kitchen contrasted sharply with the trappings that had graced Mary’s Manor, her Weston restaurant expansion.
She’d looked up the word manor and decided her place would imitate that kind of luxury as much as possible. Brocaded drapes and white, linen tablecloths had dressed up the Manor’s supper room. Slipcovers made from the same linen covered the cushioned chairs. White, bone china and delicate silverware completed the picture of elegant dining she hoped to draw.
A Franklin stove, indoor pump, double sink, polished counter tops and spacious storage cupboards made the Manor’s kitchen a dream made true. Nothing lacked for the grand opening. Picturing couples enjoying themselves in her simple but elegant setting had become her favorite pastime.
Then Judah Little and his lies thwarted her plans. Thwarted. A good word. A true word.
“But not for long,” she whispered. “That dream will come true just as this dream might come true tonight.”