Once upon a time in Black Entrepreneur History lived an African American man named Edward Elder Cooper who became a publisher and founder of The Colored American newspaper as well as the The Freeman newspaper, two of the most popular newspapers of that time.
Childhood and Schooling
Edward Elder Cooper was born in either Duval County, Florida or in Tennessee, the discrepancy due to various census reports which claim both to be possible states of birth. He was, however, born possibly enslaved as a child on June 10, 1859, to his mother named Sallie Porter, born in 1830.
As a youth, he and his family moved up North for better opportunities, and a better opportunity he received when he went to high school in Indianapolis, Indiana. There, the only African American student in a class of 65, he was the top student, or valedictorian.
By this time, it was no secret that Edward Elder Cooper was a Black man who would be a great success one day in America, despite the odds going against him at the time of high racism.
Career in Journalism, Railway Mail Service and Politics
In 1882, Edward Elder Cooper stated working at the US Railway Mail Service, and he became one of the best there. As a matter of fact, Cooper became the only Black man being placed in charge of a corp of white clerks.
While employed at the US Railway Mail Service, he founded a newspaper publication – The Colored World (1883). This was his very first publication, however, he had to abruptly end it when there were changes in his railway run.
Three years later, he left the US Railway Mail Service and worked with The Indianapolis World, a newspaper, and with him onboard, they had greater success. It was obvious that journalism was exactly what Edward Elder Cooper wanted to do as a career choice. Soon enough, he quit The Indianapolis World to launch his own paper once again, and this paper would be for Black people.
In 1888, the same year he quit Indianapolis World, he founded and published his Black-owned newspaper – The Freeman. It was The Freeman news publication that became extremely popular and put Cooper on the map in journalism. He was the first African American publisher to utilize illustrations in the style that he did for Black news in cartoons and portraits, thus, making him a progressive in Black publishing. The Freeman was so popular that even youth admired it.
Edward Elder Cooper employed the first black political cartoonist – Henry J. Lewis – at The Freeman, (also called The Indianapolis Freeman).
However, he ended the paper in Indianapolis when he moved to Washington D.C. where he started The Colored American newspaper and got into politics. He was affiliated with the Republican party (Black people began leaving the Republican party of that time due to the party wanting the votes but not wanting Black people holding positions of honor and power), and he was known as a voracious reader and literary scholar.
The Colored American newspaper ran until 1904 in Washington D.C., but before it ended, it was the “leading colored journal in the United States.“
As far as politics, unlike other prominent Black men of his time, Cooper didn’t want to hold office. He is quoted as saying:
“I’d rather be king maker than king”The Topeka Plaindealer (Topeka, Kansas) 05 Jul 1901, Fri Page 1
In 1864, Edward Elder Cooper married Tena Cooper and they had no children. In 1900, they rented a home in Washington D.C. where they lived until E.E. Cooper died.
Edward Elder Cooper died on July 9, 1908 in Washington D.C. and was buried in National Harmony Memorial Park Cemetery in Hyattsville, Prince George’s County, Maryland. He was only 49 years old.
- Year: 1900; Census Place: Washington, Washington, District of Columbia; Page: 3; Enumeration District: 0090; FHL microfilm: 1240162
- The Topeka Plaindealer (Topeka, Kansas) 05 Jul 1901, Fri Page 1
- Daily News (New York, New York)12 Feb 2008, Tue Page 59
- The Colored American (Washington, District of Columbia)24 Nov 1900, Sat Page 3
- Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 02 February 2021), memorial page for Edward Elder Cooper (10 Jun 1859–9 Jul 1908), Find a Grave Memorial no. 195237075, citing National Harmony Memorial Park Cemetery, Hyattsville, Prince George’s County, Maryland, USA ; Maintained by FamilyTies (contributor 47950600)