Ann Nixon Cooper, the Atlanta centenarian whose name Barack Obama invoked in his post-election speech as a symbol of America’s struggles and progress, died Monday. She was 107.
She died peacefully in her bed Monday afternoon surrounded by loved ones.
Cooper rose to fame in 2008 when she was mentioned in the famous “Yes We Can” speech delivered by then President-elect Barack Obama.
President Obama released the following statement upon the news of her death:
“Michelle and I wish to express our deepest condolences on the passing of Mrs. Ann Nixon Cooper. From her beginnings in Shelbyville and Nashville, Tennessee to her many years as a pillar of the Atlanta community, Ann lived a life of service. Whether it was helping to found the Girls Club for African American Youth, serving on the board of directors for the Gate City Nursery, working as a tutor at Ebenezer Baptist Church or registering voters, Ann had a broad and lasting impact on her community. I also understand that as a wife, mother and grandmother, Ann was a source of strength for her entire family, and that she always put them first.
Over the course of her extraordinary 107 years, Ann saw both the brightest lights of our nation’s history and some of its darkest hours as well. It is especially meaningful for me that she lived to cast a vote on Election Day 2008, and it was a deep honor for me to mark her life in the speech I delivered that night. 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. During this time of sadness, Michelle and I offer our deepest condolences to all who loved Ann Nixon Cooper. But even as we mourn her loss, we will also be rejoicing in all that she meant for her family, her community, and so many Americans. Obama said of Cooper, “she has lived long enough to know both “the heartache” of being denied the right to vote and “the hope” of seeing election of the nation’s first African- American president”.
She became active in Atlanta’s civic and cultural life and founded or helped to found several organizations that remain Atlanta institutions, such as the Gate City Day Nursery Association, the Girls Club Guild and Troop 95, Atlanta’s first black Boy Scout troop.
She also worked on voter education and registration, and insisted on voting in every election, “because there were so many years we weren’t allowed to vote, you know. I felt I had to, and I wanted to.” Funeral arrangements are incomplete at this time.