40th Anniversary of Cooper v Power
Celebrating the landmark lawsuit that revolutionized voter's rights in New York and beyond
"When [Andrew W. Cooper] filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court, he was well aware that he was launching a missile at the powerful political forces in the city and the state, Republican and Democratic," said Basil Paterson, the keynote speaker at the 40th Anniversary celebration of Cooper v Power, speaking about the lawsuit that led to the creation of a predominantly African-American congressional seat in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
Paterson, a former New York Secretary of State and New York City Deputy Mayor, was just the first in a long line of elected officials and political activists who paid tribute to Cooper and the lawsuit that turned the political landscape on its ear in 1967.
The event was hosted by St. Francis College and the Andrew W. Cooper Young Journalists In Training Program (YJIT), which helps put students on the journalism path with a series of career oriented workshops and internships at WABC-TV and WCBS-TV.
New York Daily News columnist Errol Lewis, who worked for Cooper when he published the weekly newspaper, The City Sun, emceed the event. Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, City Comptroller William Thompson Jr., Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, City Councilmen Al Vann and Charles Barron were some of the current lawmakers who spoke. Council Member Leticia James offered a proclamation to Jocelyn Cooper, Andrew's widow, for her continuing efforts to help others. City political giants like Harlem's Percy Sutton and former Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden also took the stage, each sharing stories about Cooper and the personal impact of his work.
During his keynote address, Paterson pointed to the major changes in representation, "The late honorable Shirley Chisholm... joined a group of African-Americans that in a few years tripled the previous number of three blacks in congress to nine. Today, there are 43." But he said that while, "only a charlatan would deny that there has been progress for minorities in the past 20 years, only a fool would be satisfied."
In addition to sharing their views on stage, many of the participants, including former City Council Members Una Clarke and Wendell Foster, also recorded their thoughts in individual interviews.
On May 10, 1967, a federal court ruled that the hodgepodge of congressional districts that snaked in and out of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn were unconstitutional, violating the recently passed Voting Rights Act and depriving one of the nations largest and densest African-American communities the right to adequate representation.
Andrew W. Cooper, a beer company employee and community activists, was the impetus for this historic change. A year after the Voting Rights Act became law he sued New York State officials in a case called Cooper v Power. The ensuing legal battle led to the redrawing of the now famous 12th Congressional District of New York (the neighborhood was later reapportioned as the 11th District).
The ruling set in motion a monumental shift in voting rights in New York and beyond, redefining political representation for people of color. It was built on the civil rights gains made down south and helped push the agenda nationwide.
Shirley Chisholm, a member of Cooper's political club, ran for the new seat and shattered the racial and gender barrier becoming the first Black woman elected to Congress. Cooper went on to write a column for the Amsterdam News then published his own newspaper, "The City Sun," from 1984 to 1996. His motto, Speaking Truth to Power, inspired countless young reporters who have now filled the ranks of journalists nationwide.
Note: The attached photos are of (1) William Thompson Jr., Jocelyn Cooper & Wendell Foster and (2) Andrea Andrews, Jocelyn Cooper and student in the Young Journalists In Training Program.
St. Francis College, founded in 1859 by the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, is located in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. Since its founding, the College has pursued its Franciscan mission to provide an affordable, high-quality education to students from New York City's five boroughs and beyond.
St. Francis College, 180 Remsen Street, Brooklyn Heights, NY 11201