Annie Lee Wilkerson Cooper (June 2, 1910 – November 24, 2010) was an African-American civil rights activist in the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Movement who is best known for punching Dallas County, Alabama Sheriff Jim Clark. In January 1965, Cooper stood in line for hours outside the Dallas County Courthouse to register to vote until Sheriff Jim Clark ordered her to vacate the premises. Clark prodded Cooper in the neck with a billy club until Cooper turned around and hit the sheriff in the jaw, knocking him down. Deputies then wrestled Cooper to the ground as Clark continued to beat her repeatedly with his club. Cooper was charged with “criminal provocation” and was escorted to the county jail, where she was held for 11 hours before being allowed to leave. She spent the period of her incarceration singing spirituals. Some in the sheriff’s department wanted to charge her with attempted murder. Following this incident, Cooper became a registered voter in her home state.
Annie Lee Wilkerson Cooper (born Annie Lee Wilkerson; June 2, 1910 – November 24, 2010) was an African-American civil rights activist. She is best known for punching Dallas County, Alabama Sheriff Jim Clark in the face during the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches.
Annie Lee Wilkerson Cooper
Annie Lee Wilkerson
June 2, 1910
Selma, Alabama, US
|Died||November 24, 2010 (aged 100)|
Selma, Alabama, US
|Occupation||Civil rights activist|
|Known for||Selma to Montgomery marches|
Life and work
Annie Lee Wilkerson Cooper was born on June 2, 1910, as Annie Lee Wilkerson in Selma, Alabama as one of ten children of Lucy Jones and Charles Wilkerson Sr. When Cooper was in the seventh grade, she dropped out of school and moved to Kentucky to live with one of her older sisters, but later obtained a high school diploma. At an early age, Cooper joined the local Baptist church.
In the 1940s, Cooper owned a restaurant. A white man who wanted to lease part of Cooper's building asked that she segregate her seating, but she refused.
In 1962, Cooper returned to Selma to care for her sick mother. She later attempted to vote in Selma, but was told she failed the literacy test. Upon being denied to register to vote in Alabama, Cooper began to participate in the civil rights movement. Cooper's attempt to register to vote in 1963 resulted in her being fired from her job as a nurse at a rest home. She then worked as a clerk at the Torch Motel.
Incident with Jim Clark
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.
—Annie Lee Cooper
On January 25, 1965, Cooper went to the former Dallas County Courthouse in Selma, Alabama to register to vote as part of the Selma to Montgomery marches. While in line, Cooper was prodded by local sheriff Jim Clark with a baton. Cooper turned around and hit Clark in the face, knocking him to the ground. Cooper proceeded to jump on Clark until she was pulled away by other sheriffs.
Cooper was then arrested and charged with criminal provocation. She was held in jail for 11 hours before the sheriff's deputies dropped the charges and released her. Cooper spent the period of her incarceration singing spirituals. Some in the sheriff's department wanted to charge her with attempted murder, and she was let go. Following this incident, Cooper became a registered voter in Alabama.
On June 2, 2010, Annie Lee Cooper became a centenarian. Reflecting on her longevity, she stated, "My mother lived to be 106, so maybe I can live that long, too." On November 24, 2010, Cooper died of natural causes in the Vaughan Regional Medical Center in Selma, Alabama.
In popular culture
In the 2014 film Selma, Cooper was portrayed by Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey said that she took the role "because of the magnificence of Annie Lee Cooper and what her courage meant to an entire movement."
A street near Cooper's home was renamed in her honor.
- SNCC Digital Gateway: Annie Lee Cooper is a documentary website about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee created by the SNCC Legacy Project and Duke University.
- Gautreau, Abigail (2021), Meringolo, Denise D. (ed.), "What Happens Next?: Institutionalizing Grassroots Success in Selma, Alabama", Radical Roots, Public History and a Tradition of Social Justice Activism, Amherst College Press, pp. 541–554, doi:10.3998/mpub.12366495, ISBN 978-1-943208-20-3, JSTOR 10.3998/mpub.12366495, retrieved 2023-04-19
- Mingo, AnneMarie (2021-10-15). "Black and Blue: Black Women, 'Law and Order,' and the Church's Silence on Police Violence". Religions. 12 (10): 886. doi:10.3390/rel12100886. ISSN 2077-1444.
- "Woman known for run-in with sheriff turns 100 today". Montgomery Advertiser. June 2, 2010. Archived from the original on November 7, 2014. Retrieved November 7, 2014.
- "Annie L. Cooper Huff Obituary". Selma Times-Journal. December 3, 2010.
- Britton, John H. (February 11, 1965). "Selma Woman's Girdle a Big". Jet Magazine. pp. 6–8. Retrieved March 29, 2023.
- "Annie Lee Cooper". SNCC Digital Gateway. Retrieved 2023-03-29.
- "The Black Woman Who Punched Out Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark". The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (24): 34. 1999. ISSN 1077-3711. JSTOR 2999058.
- May, Gary (2013). Bending Toward Justice : the Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-05073-4. OCLC 830163282.
- "Annie Lee Cooper, civil rights legend, dies". Selma Times-Journal. November 24, 2010. Retrieved June 20, 2014.
- Rivera, Zayda (20 June 2014). "Oprah Winfrey to play Annie Lee Cooper in civil rights drama 'Selma'". New York Daily News. Retrieved 20 June 2014.
- Marc Malkin (December 30, 2014). "Oprah Winfrey Opens Up About Her Violent Scene in Selma". E! Online.