Cooper, Margaret J. 194(?)–
Margaret J. Cooper 194(?)–
In 2002 Margaret Johnson Cooper became the 26th president of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACWC). Dedicated to civic and social service, education, and philanthropy, the NACWC is the oldest African-American women’s group in the nation. As president Cooper oversees 45,000 members, 1000 local groups, and 38 state groups.
Born Margaret Johnson in Wadesboro, North Carolina, Cooper was part of a family that included four brothers and five sisters. After her father was killed in World War II, Cooper’s mother, Mary Johnson Ellerbe married a local Baptist deacon and became a housewife. Meanwhile, Cooper went to live with her grandparents, though it was as if she had never left home. “My whole family lived in a really small community so I spent a lot of time at my mother’s house too. When I was with my grandparents I was at home, when I was at my mom’s I was at home,” Cooper told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB.) Her grandfather was a skilled brick layer who opened up a construction building business in the town. He was also a Baptist pastor.
“My family always valued education so they always encouraged us to do our best,” Cooper told CBB. In addition to family support, Cooper and her siblings lived in a community that also expected them to do well. “My family was an outstanding family in the community so there was no question that we would excel,” Cooper added. Noting that she had the same teachers that her parents had had in school, Cooper felt a little extra pressure to succeed. “My parents did well in school so it was just expected that I would do well too,” she told CBB. Cooper did not disappoint, graduating second in her class with the title of salutatorian from Anson County High School. Following graduation she moved to Washington, D.C., and enrolled in Federal City College. She continued to excel academically. “I majored in sociology and psychology and had a 4.0 average,” she told CBB. She earned her bachelor’s degree in 1972 with the distinction of summa cum laude. “One of the proudest moments of my life was when I received my bachelor’s degree and was able to give it to my grandmother. She hadn’t gone to college, but it was dream she had always held for me,” Cooper told CBB.
At the age of 19, while still a student at Federal City College, Cooper joined the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACWC). Founded in 1896, the NACWC is the oldest African-American women’s organization in the country. Now as then, its mission is to promote the interests of African-American women, children, and family and strive for the political and civil rights not only for African Americans, but for all Americans. The mission of the organization impressed Cooper, and she wanted to be a part of the group’s efforts. Cooper explained to CBB that, “we believe in peace and justice for all people.” Her talents were quickly recognized at NACWC, and she was hired to work in the organization’s headquarters as a secretary to the president. The demands of her paid position made it difficult to focus on her education, however, so she left her job in order to finish her studies, but she continued on with the organization as a volunteer. “I’ve
Born Margaret Johnson in 194(?) in Wadesboro, NC; married Aubrey Cooper; children: one daughter. Education: Federal City College, BA, sociology and psychology, 1972; Bowie State University, MA, counseling psychology, 1997; Bowie State University, post-master certificate, marriage and family counseling, 1997. Religion: Baptist
Career: National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, Washington DC, secretary, early 1970s; Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington DC, personnel management, 1976-89; Family Intervention Center, Washington DC, site coordinator, 1992-97; United Planning Organization, Washington DC, case manager, 1997-2000; Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington DC, personnel management specialist, 2000–.
Memberships: National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, vice president, 1996-2002; National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, president, 2002–.
Addresses: Office —National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, 1601 R St. NW, Washington, DC 20009.
been with [NACWC] ever since that first job,” she told CBB.
After graduating, Cooper started to develop solid leadership skills. She became a personnel management specialist in the human resources division of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in 1976, and eventually moved up to a supervisory role. “My job was to supervise other specialists in recruitment and placement for the department,” Cooper told CBB. Though she was very successful in her job, Cooper decided to take some time off. “Starting in 1989,1 stayed at home for a few years and did volunteer work with the NACWC and Emmanuel Baptist Church,” she told CBB. At the church she volunteered with the Family Intervention Center, a social service organization that provided various services to families and individuals in the community. In 1992 Cooper accepted a full-time position with the center. “I became a site coordinator, supervising counselors and other staff and managing the center,” she told CBB. The position prompted Cooper to continue her education and she enrolled in Bowie State University located in Bowie, Maryland, just a few miles outside of Washington, D.C. In 1997 she earned a master’s degree in counseling psychology, again with academic honors. She followed that with a post-master’s certificate in marriage and family counseling, also from Bowie.
With her new knowledge, Cooper began to work as a case manager for the United Planning Organization, a private, non-profit social service agency in Washington, D.C. “I worked directly with clients and supervised one of the offices,” Cooper told CBB. Not long after she began working with the organization, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs contacted Cooper. “They said they needed my services,” Cooper recalled to CBB. They offered her another position as personnel management specialist, again in recruitment and human resources. They also asked her to lead special projects within her department. Cooper accepted and rejoined the VA in 2000.
Meanwhile Cooper’s role within the NACWC grew. “While I was at the VA the first time, I was still a volunteer [with NACWC] and served as an officer in the local chapter,” she told CBB. “I grew to love the organization for its history, for the women involved, for its mission and programs. I really admire what it does.” She continued, “Having come from a family that was very active in the community, I guess it was only natural that I should gravitate to an organization like this.” Cooper’s dedication to the group resulted in her being elected to various posts. “Over time I moved through a series of elected offices on the local, state, and regional level,” she told CBB. “I was national first vice president from 1996 to 2002. In 2002, after running an election campaign, I was elected the 26th national president at the national convention in Birmingham, Alabama.”
Cooper’s role as president of the NACWC has kept her very busy. “I run the day-to-day operations; I lead the board of directors; and I represent the group at a myriad of other collaborations with civic and political groups,” she told CBB. “Though we are not a political action committee, we do have interest in a lot of things that go on on Capital Hill, so sometimes I go to Capital Hill to lobby for certain issues with other organizations.” Meanwhile she maintained her position with the VA. “It is a lot of work, but the VA is very supportive. They [encourage] all their employees to be involved in civic and charity organizations. So there is no conflict at all,” Cooper told CBB. Despite her busy schedule, Cooper was happy to serve the NACWC. She told CBB, “It is difficult to point to one particular proudest moment, but being elected national president of NACWC is definitely one of them.”
“National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs,” African Americans, www.africanamericans.com/NationalAsscofColoredWomen.htm (May 29, 2004).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Margaret Cooper on July 3, 2004.
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