Ann Nixon Cooper was remembered Monday as a charismatic woman who, after toiling through the civil rights era, lived to see herself hailed in an election night speech by the nation’s first black president.
Some 550 people attended the funeral Monday in Atlanta for Cooper, who died Dec. 21 at age 107.
Cooper, a dentist’s wife who raised four children, first grabbed the nation’s attention last fall when Barack Obama singled her out as a point of inspiration for his historic presidential campaign. She had cast an early ballot for him just two weeks earlier.
“Tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America ? the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can,” Obama told the nation moments after his groundbreaking election.
At the funeral service, former Atlanta Mayor and civil rights pioneer Andrew Young recalled Cooper as a longtime friend who enjoyed her sudden popularity: He joked that she dumped him as her unofficial boyfriend when she caught the attention of a handsome, younger man ? soon-to-be President Obama.
He recalled a woman who was a repository of black history in Atlanta but who also loved high-heeled shoes, parties, and aerobics ? she even danced “The Electric Slide” past age 100.
“She stands for a person who lived through all the dangers, toils and snares that affected her community,” he told mourners gathered in Friendship Baptist Church.
Born on Jan. 9, 1902, in Shelbyville, Tenn., Cooper came to Atlanta as a new bride in 1922. As the wife of Dr. Albert B. Cooper, a prominent Atlanta dentist, hers was a comfortable life ? albeit one limited by the open racism and sexism still prevalent at the time.
Cooper first registered to vote on Sept. 1, 1941, but she didn’t exercise her right for years, instead deferring to her husband. However, she made no such deferrence when Obama ran for the presidency.
“It was a life that captured the spirit of community and change and progress that is at the heart of the American experience; a life that inspired ? and will continue to inspire ? me in the years to come,” Obama said in an official White House statement printed on Cooper’s funeral program.
On Inauguration Day, Cooper hosted a full house of media and guests to watch the historic event. Asked how she felt about having a black president, she replied: “I helped put him there.”
Cooper outlived her husband, who died in 1967, and three of her four children.
She is survived by a daughter, 14 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.