Melissa Cooper, Ph.D.

Rutgers University associate professor Melissa L. Cooper, Ph.D., will speak on three African-American “trailblazing women” on Feb. 29 in Darien.

In her 10 a.m. talk at St. Cyprians Episcopal Church, the associate professor of history and author on Gullah culture, will discuss Episcopal Saint Anna Alexander, teacher Elizabeth Elaine Lemon and Susie King Taylor, a former slave who became a U.S. Army nurse and educator, according to the Ashantilly Center, sponsor of the event.

Alexander, whose full name was Anna Ellison Butler Alexander, is buried in northern Glynn County in front of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, which she founded in 1894. She lived upstairs in the old two-story church that also housed the parochial school she founded in 1902.

Church historians have said she walked from the church on Pennick Road to Darien to hold services and was ordained in 1907 as the first African-American deaconess in the Episcopal Church.

Lemon came from humble beginnings but got a college education and taught Martin Luther King Jr.

Taylor was born a slave in Liberty County in 1846 and became the first black non-commissioned officer in the Union Army with the First South Carolina Volunteers. Her owner had sent her to live with her grandmother in Savannah where she was illegally taught to read and write. In 1866, she returned to Savannah and established a school for freed children.

Cooper, who specializes in African-American cultural and intellectual history, is the author of “Making Gullah: A History of Sapelo Islanders, Race, and the American Imagination.”

The book, published in 2017 by University of North Carolina Press, “examines the emergence of ‘the Gullah’ in scholarly and popular works during the 1920s and 1930s,” according to Rutgers University’s faculty notes. She used Sapelo Island as a case study for the book. Her grandparents were the descendants of slaves and lived on the island.

Her book will be available for purchase and signing at the presentation.

Cooper also wrote, “Instructor’s Resource Manual — Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans with Documents,’’ and contributed with “Race and Retail: Consumption Across the Color Line,’’ which Rutgers University Press published in 2015.

Cooper holds a bachelor of science in secondary education — social studies from Temple and a master’s degree and Ph.D. from Rutgers.

The program and reception are both free, but those who plan to attend are asked to call 912-437-4473 so organizers can prepare enough seating.

After the St. Cypriens talk, there will be an optional box lunch served at the parish hall. The lunch is $5 and must be reserved by Tuesday.

Payment may be made on the Ashantilly website at http://ashantillycenter.org.

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