Added to my new list of favorite movies is, ‘Selma‘ the story of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital, Montgomery, to bring attention to the barriers the Southern states were using to prevent black citizens from registering to vote.
Dr. King had the world in his vortex during the Civil Rights Movement and among those participant souls was a Miss Annie Lee Cooper. After watching this film I became infatuated with Annie Lee Cooper the woman our many similarities and our slight differences in time.
She became known in history as the woman who hit Selma’s Sheriff Clark but there is more to her story than just the energy she mustered in order to defend herself.
Denied More Than Some
One of the very first scenes in the film Selma is surely a favorite of mine and it is when Annie Lee Cooper, played by Oprah Winfrey attempts to register to vote alone and is denied after a circus like round of questions asked of her by the white registrar.
Fast forward to a few scenes ahead in Selma during Dr. King’s attempt to register multiple African American voters Annie Lee included, outside of the Dallas County Courthouse.
It is during this scene that Annie Lee Cooper was actually struck by Selma’s Sheriff Clark. In the brief moment of disbelief, it’s almost as if everyone who’d seen The Color Purple just knew that Oprah’s character in this film was sure to hit the sheriff back, and of course she did.
Who is Annie Lee?
Born in Selma, Alabama on June 2, 1910, one of ten children of Lucy Jones and Charles Wilkerson Sr. A seventh grade drop out Annie Lee left Selma, Alabama at a young age to live with her older sister in Kentucky.
Facts You Should Know
1. Annie Lee’s mom lived to be 106 years old and it was her own dream to simply live a long life.
2. Annie Lee registered to vote in both Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania successfully before being denied more than 3 times in Selma, AL.
3. Annie Lee turned 100 years old on June 2, 2010.
4. Annie Lee initially moved back to Selma, AL in 1962 to care for her elderly mother.
5. Upon registering to vote successfully in Selma, AL Annie Lee was fired from her job at an elderly home and worked as a motel clerk.
6. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did not encourage violence but in a rare occurrence gave a special speech hours after Sheriff Clark and Annie Lee “got into it”, siding with Lee stating that she was provoked by the sheriff.
7. Annie Cooper Avenue runs off Division Street in East Selma, where she had lived.
8. Annie Lee was an entrepreneur owning the only Black owned restaurant in Pennsylvania at the time.
9. Annie Lee knocked sheriff Clarke out.
10. Annie Lee loved watching The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Annie Lee Votes
While away from Selma, AL Annie Lee earned her high school diploma while going to school at night and had also became an entrepreneur owning a restaurant, the only black one in town while she lived in Pennsylvania. She says no matter where she lived she always registered to vote first and that it was very important to her.
She explains in an article celebrating her 100th birthday titled, Woman known for run-in with sheriff turns 100 Today, two decades before the incident in Selma, a white man in Pennsylvania wanted to sublease a building where she had rented for her restaurant but he did not want her serving black patrons on his side.
Cooper States: “A white man wanted to sublease half of the building that I had been renting for my restaurant and told me to make sure that no black people would try to eat on his side,” she said. She said she quickly informed him that “I had the only black restaurant in town, and I wouldn’t discriminate against anybody. I turned him down.”
Shits Shaking in Selma
It is upon her move back home to take care of her elderly mother in 1962 that she got heavily involved in the Selma Voting Rights Movement as it was just taking shape. It is in late January 1965 that Cooper stood in line for hours outside the Dallas County Courthouse with Dr. King to register to vote after being denied more than three times.
That’s when she and Dallas County’s segregationist sheriff got into it on the sidewalk outside the courthouse where black residents tried to register to vote and were rebuffed by white officials. When it was over, Cooper was handcuffed and in custody. Sheriff Jim Clark claimed she slugged him. She said he hit her. “I was just standing there when his deputies told a man with us to move, and when he didn’t, they tried to kick him,” Cooper said last week. “That’s when (Clark) and I got into it.”Cooper was charged with “criminal provocation” and taken to the county jail, where she stayed until 11 p.m. that day.She said the charge eventually was dropped.
Historian David J. Garrow tells the story in his book, “Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” which was released in the 1970s by Yale University Press. According to Garrow’s documented version, Cooper had stood in line for hours outside the Dallas County Courthouse to register to vote. Clark ordered the 224-pound, 54-year-old African-American woman to go home. Cooper claimed he poked her in the back of the neck with either a billy club or a cattle prod. Cooper turned and delivered a right hook to the sheriff’s jaw. He dropped to the ground.
John Lewis, who later would become a Congressman, said at the time, “Clark whacked her so hard we could hear the sound several rows back.” Deputies wrestled Cooper down on the ground, arrested her, charged her with assault, and attempted murder. Newspapers from the time said she was detained in jail for 11 hours. Sheriff’s deputies released her because they were afraid Clark would come back in and beat her. As she sat in jail, Martin Luther King Jr. made a historic speech in Brown Chapel.
Here’s what Dr. King said about Annie Lee:
“This is what happened today: Mrs. Cooper was down in that line, and they haven’t told the press the truth about it. Mrs. Cooper wouldn’t have turned around and hit Sheriff Clark just to be hitting. And of course, as you know, we teach a philosophy of not retaliating and not hitting back, but the truth of the situation is that Mrs. Cooper, if she did anything, was provoked by Sheriff Clark. At that moment, he was engaging in some very ugly business-as-usual action. This is what brought about that scene there.”
Seeing Selma with Hope Academy
Seeing Selma with Hope Academy was the best gift ever. The children are beautiful in every way imaginable. I loved that before the movie on the way to the Star theatre the entire group of Hope Academy students had a round of questions given by the instructors that had to be answered after watching the film.My son’s teacher Ms. Wade prepped us on the bus and during the film even I was trying to get the answers right, sitting next to my son Jaylen definitely helped.
I am grateful to Hope Academy, Ms. Wade and the students for being so welcoming to my presence. I enjoyed every moment of the film and most of all I loved such great company.