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    US passport bears black woman’s 1892 call for freedom

    Some friends and I will be taking a Mediterranean cruise later this year, so I had to make sure my passport was up to date. While flipping through it, I was reminded of a comment from a stamp collector I met during a “First-Day-of-Issue” dedication ceremony last year for the Richard Allen stamp.

    Betty D. Sessions started collecting stamps 30 years ago, and attends first-day ceremonies around the country. She mentioned a commemorative postage stamp featuring educator Anna Julia Cooper that was released in Washington, DC, in 2009.

    “Look at your passport, page 25, you’ll see her words,” Sessions told me. And so I did.

    There on page 26 and 27 was a quote by Cooper, along with images of the Statue of Liberty and a close-up of the stone tablet she holds in her hand with the date July 4, 1776, in roman numerals.

    US passport, Anna Julia Cooper quote

    US passport showing the Anna Julia Cooper quote on page 26-27.

    “The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class – it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.”

    Hers was not the only quote. Each page of the passport bore one from names I was more familiar with, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington, and Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. There were also excerpts from the Declaration of Independence and the Thanksgiving Address, Mohawk version.

    It’s been about 10 years since I renewed my passport – and taken a foreign trip – so I’m sure that I likely saw those quotes before but thought nothing of them. Now, I wondered if they had always been there, even in my earlier passport from 1998. I checked and they were not.

    So I was not only curious about Cooper but about the then- “new” design of the passport.

    Anna Julia Cooper

    Anna Julia Cooper. Photo from the Anna Julia Cooper Society website.

    Anna Julia Cooper

    Cooper was born in slavery in Raleigh, NC, in 1858, and went on to become an author, educator, public speaker and activist. Her advocacy for females – and black women in particular – began early on when she objected to the preferential treatment given to male ministerial students at a school that trained black teachers. At Oberlin College, she objected to taking courses specifically designed for “ladies.” She earned bachelors and master’s degrees in the 1880s. She was said to be the first African American woman to obtain a PhD, earning it at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1924.

    While living in the nation’s capital, she founded the Colored Women’s League of Washington in 1892, and helped start a YWCA chapter for black women because the white organization refused to admit them. Cooper was a teacher and principal at one of the first high school preparatory schools for black children in Washington, and spoke out often for the rights of women and African Americans both here and abroad.

    She read a paper – and spoke – on the progress of black women at a women’s conference during the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Seven years later, she presented a paper on the “Negro Problem” at the first Pan African conference in London.

    Anna Julia Cooper

    A photo of Anna Julia Cooper from her book “A Voice from the South.”

    I speak for the colored women of the South, because it is there that the millions of blacks in this country have watered the soil with blood and tears, and it is there too that the colored woman of America has made her characteristic history and there her destiny is evolving,” she said at the women’s conference.

    Cooper wrote a book titled “A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South,” published in 1892. The passport quote is from the book, about the importance of listening to black women and what they had to contribute to the country.

    “It is not the intelligent woman vs. the ignorant woman; nor the white woman vs. the black, the brown, and the red, – -it is not even the cause of woman vs. man. Nay, ’tis woman’s strongest vindication for speaking that the world needs to hear her voice. It would be subversive of every human interest that the cry of one-half the human family be stifled,” she also wrote.

    Cooper died in 1964 in Washington. The U.S. Postal Service commissioned a stamp in her honor in 2009. Wake Forest University in North Carolina has opened the Julia Cooper Center on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South.

    US passport

    Lyrics from “The Star Spangled Banner” on the inside cover of the US passport, along with image of Francis Scott Key, who was inspired to write the song after seeing the flag flying over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.

    U.S. passport

    The passport was redesigned in 2007 and contained the quotes. The last redesign was 1993. Another is coming late this year or early next year with new safety features. That passport will have a data chip, and will use the same type of engravings and ink as paper money.

    The 2007 redesign was called “American Icon,” and the inside cover page bears some lines from “The Star Spangled Banner,” along with a drawing of Francis Scott Key looking out at the flag. A State Department passport official said at the time that the idea was to present an American story that was more inclusive.

    The 2007 design grew out of a committee of reps from the State Department and the Government Printing Office, with final approval of the icon theme by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell.




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