Author: Larissa M. Smith


Esther Georgia Irving Cooper (1881–1970)

Esther Georgia Irving Cooper was a civil rights leader in Arlington County. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, and the daughter of former slaves, Cooper moved to northern Virginia to work for the federal Forest Service. She became an advocate for the improvement of African American education after judging Arlington’s black schools to be unfit for her own children. She served as president of the Kemper School Parent-Teacher Association, lobbied to establish an accredited junior high school, and organized and led the Arlington County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Under her direction, the Arlington NAACP launched a court case challenging inequalities in the county’s high school facilities. The group’s efforts culminated in Carter v. School Board of Arlington County (1950), in which the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the county’s separate high schools constituted unlawful racial discrimination. Cooper died at her Arlington County home in 1970.

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