Ancestral Community Activist: Dr. Walter Cooper, Ph.D. on Racial Unrest and Educational Shortfall in Rochester, NY


Dr. Walter Cooper, Ph. D is a former scientist (Eastman Kodak)and Regent Emeritus of the state of New York, who has been in his youth and continues to be beyond his trade, a forerunner for racial justice in Rochester, New York.

Triumphs for racial justice for minorities in Rochester, NY, you will find Dr. Cooper among the likes of freedom fighters like Frederick Douglass, Austin Steward, and Susan B. Anthony.

The city of Rochester has honored Dr. Cooper with a school that bears his name- Dr. Walter Cooper Academy, School #10.

In this article, he assessed the climate of Rochester after the death of Daniel Prude while in custody of officers of the Rochester Police Department (RPD) and the dysfunction of the Rochester City School District (RCSD).

Let us get straight to it!

“I think the protesters have gotten too where they have made their point and it is nationwide,” Cooper said. “Now, they should pivot and say we are going to have a meeting and tell everyone what we are going to do now, which is register every potential voter we can find. That is our next responsibility. The real leader against people of color is the man in the White House.”

Southwest Tribune: In your agreement that Rochester like many other urban cities in America is similar to apartheid which ensured that South Africa was dominated politically, socially, and economically by the nation's minority white population.

“It is our fault. We have lost the thrust of the Civil Rights movement. We used to have an organization that focused on education, enlightenment, and political participation with sophisticated people, we do not have that now. If you compare the early 1960s of the Black community then and now it is two different worlds. You had a RCSD schoolteacher who chaired the Congress on Racial Equality. When Gov. Rockefeller came in 1952 to dedicate the opening of Chatham Gardens, he was picketed by young educated blacks with their white colleagues. And they told him, why are you celebrating the opening of more segregated housing? They upgraded Gov. Rockefeller. Then, they formed their own political action group called the nonpartisan political league. You do not have anything like that now. No movement of intelligence. The community has no hubs for the intelligent young black with respect to social, political, and governmental action. You cannot really change the police, until you exert the political muscle to do so. The oppression and elements of the slave society continually live in the operation of this country. White superiority is what it is. We are experiencing the reinforcement of white superiority and the police are the arm of enforcing that.”

Southwest Tribune: What are some other insights that we should focus on?

“We need to ensure effective humane operations are coming out of the police department. Why do you call the police and they send the police and it is a mental health problem? In this country you are dealing with systems that have evolved out of a slave system. In the United States they have always been the ever present of a black population and the attitude is how do we handle them and keep them from emerging on a basis equal to white people. A people without a historical memory is doomed to degradation. For example, when the issue of monuments came up, no one asked the question? The first person to shed blood in the fight against the oppression from England was a Black man, Crispus Attucks but you did not put up a monument to him. You never say anything about the Blacks who fought at Bunker Hill and Lexington, Peter Salem, Salem Poor, and others. You do not say George Washington’s army was 15 to 20 percent Black. And we allow them to get away with it because our own people do not study our own history.”

Southwest Tribune: What is your assessment of the city school district?

“From my own experience and knowledge, it is one of those things where you literally have to destroy it to save it. On the reset: No one has tenure because we are going to start new. Your advancement in the district is going to be based on competitive efficiency. You have in the district itself educators who are really not committed to teaching these kids because many of them are ill-prepared. For example, February of this year, we celebrated Black History Month at the school. The staff had an excellent visual observation of Black History month. They showed Rosa Park sitting in the bus, Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King, all our heroes. But what depressed me is when they showed the picture of Rosa Park, they did not explain to those kids the significance of her refusing to ride in segregating seating. They did the same thing with Jackie Robinson. So, on the Monday of next week I came into the school, I said what goes on here? Sharing a picture is less than half of the reality of the individual that you are showing. What did they do that was significant in terms of their lives? And how they impacted on the lives of others is the significance that needs to be taught.”

Southwest Tribune: What are the steps today to implement a cultural and historical curriculum in the Rochester City School District that is sufficient to the development of its more than 85 percent minority population?

“In 1953-54 while a graduate student at the University of Rochester, I taught Black teenagers’ girls and boys, Black history out of E. Franklin Frazier’s, “History of the Negro in the United States (1949). Until our only unique institution (RCSD) determines they have a functional and imperative role in terms of the education of our children it would not change. Because then they can convey to the parents, if your family is going to have a future, your child has to get a good education. We cannot limit it to the system itself. For example, I would point out to community leaders. Does your church have a library? Of course, I would get lied to with them saying they are working on it. I would say can you imagine Jewish children going to a synagogue and not being taught Jewish history? Until Black people; especially the leadership, understand what must be done for the total liberation of our people in this society, I do not see how you could change it. Because if a program comes down from the state of New York Board of Regents or some other government entity in the state of New York, unless Blacks themselves are dedicated to a 100 percent implementation of it, it will not happen. And you need to know your history because if you do not know your history someone will give you one that will not operate in your benefit. What is happening with the teacher’s union? The unions are promising more money. We could use some help from our Black teachers, but they have chosen promises built on gradual salary increases above history that will be beneficial to blacks.”

Article by Author and Journalist Rodney Brown, executive director of Brown Publishing LLC and Southwest Tribune Newspaper
More Stories Like This