Anna Julia Cooper ‘A Voice from the South’

A Voice from the South’ is a book published in 1892. Its author, Anna Julia Cooper, was born in 1858 the daughter of enslaved people who were declared free by the US Emancipation Act of 1863 when she was five years old. It soon became clear that the mere passing of a legislative Act was not enough to free people from the prejudices and injustices of an unequal society and AJC grew up with all the insults and repressions that could be suffered by a person by reason of their gender or the colour of their skin. It might be thought that her writings, which are no more than an eloquent and reasonable call for the realisation in practice of the simple principle that everyone is created equal, would be outdated and redundant a hundred and thirty years later and yet they have startling contemporary relevance in the era of Me Too and Black Lives Matter. It is better when she speaks for herself:

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

“… the law holds good in sociology as in the world of matter, that equilibrium, not repression among conflicting forces is the condition of natural harmony, of permanent progress, and of universal freedom. That exclusiveness and selfishness in a family, in a community, or in a nation is suicidal to progress.”

“… you will not find the law of love shut out from the affairs of men after the feminine half of the world’s truth is completed.” … “All I claim is that there is a feminine as well as a masculine side to truth; that these are related not as inferior and superior, not as better and worse, not as weaker and stronger, but as complements - complements in one necessary and symmetric whole.”

It is tempting to think that these arguments are so self-evident and convincing that they have long-since carried the day, except that contemporary events – Me Too, Black Lives Matter, Afghanistan, and now Ukraine - demonstrate that in practice they have not, at least not everywhere. It seems that they need to be rehearsed and re-heard again and again from generation to generation for the world and for humankind to find the peace and contentment we so deeply crave. AJC died in 1964 at the age of one hundred and six but her words live on to express her spirit and the spirit of our shared humanity.

Ian Mason

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