Walter Cooper Papers
Dr. Walter Cooper [1928- ], scientist, humanitarian, activist, and educator, was born on July 18, 1928 in Clairton, Pennsylvania to Alonzo and Luda Cooper. Though his parents had received little formal schooling, they instilled in their eight children a deep appreciation for learning and education. Dr. Cooper performed well in school, shining in both academics and extracurricular activities. He became involved in the racial equality movement as a high school student when he and three of his fellow star football players succeeded in opening Clairton High School's application considerations for African American female cheerleaders. He was also focused on equality when applying to colleges—he insisted upon one which welcomed his full participation to the football team while also offering an academic scholarship. He attended Washington and Jefferson College where he served as his class secretary/treasurer, and continued to work toward equal opportunities. During the summer, Dr. Cooper led a group of eight fellow students to press U.S. Steel for employment and successfully obtained jobs. However, after graduation, despite his stellar record, Dr. Cooper struggled to find a company which would hire an African-American scientist. Although frustrated, Dr. Cooper did not abandon his goals: "I became a scientist because I did not see any black scientists. I looked around and I saw black doctors, black lawyers, but no black scientists. I chose that as a challenge."
Deciding to pursue a higher degree, Dr. Cooper attended Howard University briefly and then went on to earn his Ph. D in Physical Chemistry at the University of Rochester 1956. Almost immediately upon completion, he began working at the Eastman Kodak Company as a research scientist in successively higher professional appointments until his retirement in 1986 with three patents and many research publications to his credit. He is a member of several professional societies: the American Chemical Society, Sigma Xi, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the New York State Academy of Science, and the American Physical Society. He has received honors and awards for his scientific achievements, including: National Science Foundation Fellow in 1955-56, Washington and Jefferson Honorary Doctor of Sciences 1967, Henry Hill Lecturer in 1983, and the Leo H East 1996 Engineer of the Year.
Simultaneous with his Kodak years, Dr. Cooper also increased his involvement in community development and civil rights issues, with emphasis on educational opportunities and motivation. There was a great deal of social turmoil present in Rochester, as shown by the 1964 Rochester Race Riots, and Dr. Cooper worked extensively to bring about peaceful change. To this end, Dr. Cooper served the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as the Rochester branch president and co-founded the Rochester Branch of the Urban League in 1965, continuing to serve on the Board of Directors into the 1970s. He was also a board member of the Baden Street Settlement, a non-profit organization working with northeast Rochester residents to improve the quality of life. The Baden Street Settlement was integral in bringing reform after the riots, and through it he worked to promote the candidacy and eventual election of Constance Mitchell as Third Ward supervisor.
Dr. Cooper saw business and enterprise as one way to achieve equal treatment and opportunity. Locally, he was a founding member of Action for a Better Community, Inc and served as associate director from 1964-65. He was also on the Social Goals and Policies Committee of the United Community Chest and on the Board of Directors of the Rochester Area Foundation. On a national level, he served as the Special Consultant to the Administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA) from December 1968 through May 1969 and continued to serve on the National Advisory Council to the SBA afterward. He researched black capitalism and studied successful economic models extensively in order to fulfill these roles.
Dr. Cooper also notably established Rochester's sister program with Bamako, Mali. He helped establish scholarships for students from Mali at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), and offered moral support to the first students who came by inviting them to family gatherings. In keeping with the economic work he was doing in the US, Dr. Cooper researched business opportunities available in Mali and worked with the Malian government to establish programs. In 1981, he was named a Knight of the National Order of Mali in honor of the various services he had performed.
In recognition of his work in community development, Dr. Cooper received numerous awards, including: Rochester Junior Chamber of Commerce's LeRoy Synder Award and the Rochester Chamber of Commerce Social Work Civic Development Award in 1966, the Charles T. Lunsford Award in 1978, the University of Rochester Hutchison Award in 1994, the F. Ritter and Hettie L. Shumway Distinguished Service Award in 1997, and the 69th Annual Rotary Award from the Rochester Branch of Rotary International in 2005. Also in 2005, he received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree from the State University of New York at Geneseo. In 2008, Dr. Cooper received the University of Rochester Frederick Douglass Award which is awarded to those who "… have fought to open opportunities for all people in corporate America, in classrooms, and in the world."
Dr. Cooper's lifetime of initiatives reflects his unswerving belief in the power of education as the primary means to improve the opportunities and circumstances of young people. Dr. Cooper has often said, "Not to educate a child is the worst form of child abuse." From 1959 to 1965, he served as Chairman of the Education Committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He worked with several efforts to improve school integration, notably the Urban-Suburban transfer program between Rochester city schools and the Penfield School District in the late 60s-early 70s. He served as Chairman of the Urban League's education sub-committee and was a core leader of Project Uplift, the Urban League's program for high school students. In 1975, he was named to the Board of Trustees of his alma mater, Washington and Jefferson. He also served as a chairman of the Ralph Bunche Scholarship Committee in the 1980s.
In 1988, shortly after his retirement from Kodak, Dr. Cooper became a Regent of the State of New York. His efforts were focused on the math and science curricula, better healthcare offerings in schools, and working with the Interstate Migrant Communication Council. His interest in healthcare was strengthened by his services on the Board of Governors for the Genesee Hospital, the Board of Directors of the Rochester General Hospital, and the Board of Directors Finger Lakes Health System Agency. As a regent, he also worked to promote the field of nursing through such programs as Greater Opportunities in Nursing (GOIN), Inc. As for migrant students, because of his extensive efforts in civil rights, Dr. Cooper remains cognizant of current issues and is particularly interested in the challenges facing Hispanic immigrants. Though he stopped serving actively on the Board of Regents in 1997, he is a Regent Emeritus and continues to have special assignments to date.
Nowadays, Dr. Cooper's commitment to the Rochester community and education continues. In 2009, Rochester School Number 10 was named the Dr. Walter Cooper Academy. The school emphasizes research and interactive learning, the methodology which Dr. Cooper strongly supported. He said at the ribbon cutting ceremony that being the school's namesake "imposes upon me a kind of a responsibility to see that the school indeed works." To that end, Dr. Cooper has been a frequent visitor to the school and goes on field trips with the students. He works with the parents, teachers and administrators to create a supportive learning environment.
The collection is very extensive, containing everything from report cards at the age of twelve to surveys of Rochester city schools in the 1960's to materials related to the 2009 founding and ongoing programs of the Dr. Walter Cooper Academy. Processing of this collection is now in progress. Due to high interest in the papers, the Rare Books and Special Collections Department is releasing this register in successive parts to facilitate public access to the collection as portions are organized and described. As processing continues, there will be periodic additions to the register until the collection is fully processed. The materials which are currently available include information on Dr. Cooper's personal history, the 1964 Rochester Race Riots, the school integration/urban-suburban transfer plan in Rochester, and the Small Business Administration. The types of materials in the collection include Dr. Cooper's writings, newspaper clippings, various organizations meeting minutes and newsletters, photographs, and letters.
Walter Cooper Papers (D.385):