Happy Black History Month! This is the fourth blog of a series of blogs called “Black History Month Heroes You Should Know”. This series will be a collection of my research into little-known Black Americans who have made history in one way or another (or multiple ways!).
The focus of today’s blog is Annie Lee Cooper, the woman whose courage inspired many during the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Movement. After waiting hours to register to vote in Alabama, Sheriff Jim Clark told her to leave then poked her in the neck with a police baton unprompted. Cooper is most widely known for throwing a right hook at the sheriff and knocking him to the ground. What a LADY!!
This is her story.
Born in Selma, Moved to Kentucky
Annie Lee Cooper was born in Selma, Alabama in 1910 as one of ten children. After Cooper finished the 7th grade, she dropped out to move to Kentucky and stay with an older sister. After spending around 35 years in Kentucky, Cooper came back to Selma to take care of her elderly mother.
Attempt at Registering to Vote 1963
After Cooper returned home, she realized that although she was registered to vote in Kentucky as well as Ohio, she was not able to vote in Alabama. When Cooper went to register, she found out she couldn’t and was fired from her job as a nurse at a rest home. Frustrated, this led her to join the Civil Rights Movement in 1963.
Attempt at Registering to Vote 1965
Two years later, Cooper decided to try again. She went down to the Dallas County Courthouse in Selma and stood in line for five hours, waiting. Eventually, Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark told her to leave. With a police baton, he poked Cooper in the neck until she turned around and sent a right hook right into his jaw. She really DID that! This knocked him to the ground and almost immediately, deputies came over to arrest her as Jim Clark began beating her with his baton.
Jailed For 11 Hours
Cooper was charged with “criminal provocation” and held in the county jail for 11 hours. Some police officers wanted to charge her with attempted murder, but those charges never came. The deputies eventually released her because they were afraid the sheriff would come back to beat her.
Finally, Registered to Vote
Shortly after the incident, Cooper finally got the only thing she had wanted: successful voter registration. She is quoted as saying, “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” (SNCC Digital Gateway). Cooper passed at the age of 100 in 2010. Her legacy lives on, as she is a key character in Ava DuVerney’s 2015 film Selma. Oprah Winfrey portrays her. Read more about Annie Lee Cooper here or here.
Read another article from the “Black History Month Heroes You Should Know” blog series here.