barbara cooper

Environmental activist Pearson wins race to succeed the late Rep. Barbara Cooper

Environmental activist Justin Pearson won the Democratic primary to succeed the late Rep. Barbara Cooper (D-Memphis) in the Tennessee House. There were no Republicans or independents running for the District 86 seat.

The Shelby County Commission was expected to meet Wednesday to vote on whether to name Pearson to the House seat on an interim basis until the March general election.

Pearson won more than half of the 2,359 votes cast in the contest. His closest rival was former longtime County Commissioner Julian T. Bolton, who had been endorsed by former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Sr. (D-Memphis). Pearson had the backing of current Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.

Here are the unofficial results from Shelby County:

  • Justin J. Pearson: 52%
  • Julian T. Bolton: 12%
  • Will Richardson: 8%
  • Juliette Eskridge: 7%
  • Clifford Lewis: 5%
  • Tanya L. Cooper: 5%
  • Rod Blount: 4%
  • Dominique Frost: 4%
  • Andrew “Rome” Withers: 1.5%
  • Rebecca Robinson: 0.5%

State Rep. Barbara Cooper dies at 93

Longtime state Rep. Barbara Cooper (D-Memphis) has died at age 93.

Cooper, a retired teacher and organizer with the the African-American Peoples Organization was first elected to the House in 1996 after then-Rep. Rufus Jones gave up the seat to make an unsuccessful bid for Congress.

Here’s the release from the House Democratic Caucus:

MEMPHIS—Tennessee Rep. Barbara Ward Cooper, a decorated educator, highly regarded community advocate and longtime member of the state House who championed reforms for students and the city of Memphis, has died. She was 93.

First elected to the State House of Representatives in 1996, Rep. Cooper served the 86th House District in Shelby County for 26 years in the 100th through the 112th General Assembly. She is remembered as passionate supporter of education, public health and reducing poverty.

“I am deeply saddened by the passing of my longtime colleague and dear friend, Barbara Cooper” said  House Minority Leader Karen Camper. “She was a warrior for her community and the City of Memphis, a tireless advocate on education and equality issues and just a delightful person.  We will all miss her.”

Cooper, a retired Memphis City Schools teacher who worked in several roles for the district, was a fierce fighter for Tennessee students. She believed wholly in the transformative power of education and she herself continued studying throughout her life, graduating from Manassas High School in Memphis, then earning both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from her beloved Tennessee State University, as well as a Doctorate of Religious Philosophy and Christian Psychology at Jacksonville Theological Seminary.

In addition to her decades of service to students, Cooper was an unwavering voice for the community of Memphis and advancing the rights of Black Tennesseans. One clear example of her work was the Cooper-Jones Initiative, an education collaboration with former Rep. Ulysses Jones, Jr. seeking to lift up underserved Memphians. Cooper also formed the Harriet Tubman Legacy Awards to honor Memphians who were committed to uplifting the community.  

Cooper was an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated and its community service programs. She was also proud member of organizations, such as the NAACP, the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators, the National Council of Negro Women, and many more.

Rep. Cooper’s steadfast commitment to her neighbors and charitable causes is reflected by the countless number of awards and accolades bestowed upon her through the years, such as the Equal Opportunity Group Inc. Project Save-A-Student Award, the AFL-CIO Leadership Award, the Dr. Raymond Winbush Award, and the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Extraordinary Leadership Award.

She attended St. Augustine Catholic Church and was an active member of the congregation.

Rep. Barbara Ward Cooper, born Aug. 4, 1929, is survived by her daughter Reverend Joan Cooper Burnett and daughter Tanya Cooper; grandchildren Reneshia Burnett, Ashlea Burnett Vainqueur (Willy) and Martez King; great grandchildren; and a host of family, friends and supporters. 

She is preceded in death by her husband John D. Cooper, whom she was married to for 55 years, and her son Carl Cooper.

Arrangements for a celebration of life service will be forthcoming. Until then, the family respectfully asks for prayer and privacy at this time.


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