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article imageOp-Ed: One man's journey West to change his life and defy the past Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Feb 1, 2015 in Lifestyle
San Francisco - As commemorations of Martin Luther King, Jr. day were being planned and celebrated, one man, Ardist Cooper, Jr. who lived through those times before the Civil Rights Movement, shared his recollections.
While on assignment for The Ingleside Light Newspaper, this reporter had the opportunity to speak with Cooper about his life. He lives in San Francisco's Ingleside District and has seen a lot of change over the past 50 years. Despite disappointments and on-going struggles, he continues to uphold that America continues to be a great nation. "People must participate (in life and in the democratic process) and everyone must do for him/herself." His basic philosophy and outlook on life is expressed in his book, "Every Tub Sits On Its Own Bottom." It is has been three years since he published his biographical memoirs. Not to be confused with the book about Zora Neale Hurston by the same name. In that title the word "must" is used. "Every Tub Must Sit On Its Own Bottom." Either way, the point is very clear, independence and self-reliance is crucial. And, Mr. Cooper noted about the title, "it's a phrase that many people from where I am from would say." The importance of being independent resourceful and self-reliant were skills and virtues Cooper grew up with, taught to him by his parents from a very young age.
His book is a true story about the life and the experiences he had growing up in rural Louisiana. He talked candidly about what he sees in contemporary society today. Of all his accomplishments, his most prized is his buying a home and raising a family. "I've lived here in Ingleside since 1958. My children grew up here and over the years I have been trying to correct wrongs and make contributions to the community."
"Back in the day, he said, The Ingleside was an area that had been mostly of white people. As they moved out, people of color moved in. And, as we moved in people of color got a lot of mistreatment. The police at that time were not nice. So, we got organized and appointed someone to represent us."
Cooper was in a sense a 'police-community' relations coordinator long before that concept as it is known today was even put together. He admitted it was not easy. But since homeownership and the American Dream were very important to Mr. Cooper, it was something he understood instinctively. Efforts had to be made to secure a bridge and establish the new arrivals to the neighborhood as a community.
Author and Korean War veteran Ardist Cooper  Jr.
Author and Korean War veteran Ardist Cooper, Jr.
Courtesy of Ardist Cooper, Jr. (2012)
"Police, he said, tend to think a certain way." This was especially so at that time in particular. "We wanted to get along as Ingleside was now our home. We were not violent and we were not going anywhere. So, we listened and expressed that we wanted to get a long and learn how to live together."
The Ingleside district initially was the outskirts of the City. Yet after the great Earthquake and Fire of 1906, the outskirts began slowly to develop as many who lost their homes gradually settled in. After The Great War (World War I) Ingleside and along with the other Western edges of the City like The Sunset, The Richmond, began to grow. What had been ranches, farms, dairies, cemeteries and sand dunes gradually became neighborhoods, districts and thoroughfares of commerce.
The Great Depression halted some of that growth. But when World War II happened, San Francisco like much of the West Coast experienced a tremendous migration of workers. Many were from the South. The demand for labor to work in defense plants and shipyards brought many to San Francisco. Their contribution to the war effort was vital, especially as the war dragged on and victory uncertain.
Mr. Cooper left the South at age 11 just as WWII became intense. Yet even with a war going on, the prejudice, racism and strife of those times was still prevalent. He was fortunate to have family, aunts and uncles, "guardian angles" as he referred to them, on his journey. They let him stay, even when they thought it best he be back home with his parents in rural Warden, Louisiana. But Mr. Cooper was determined not to go back home to the South. "I knew I was more than what the South was about."
The South as Mr. Cooper described it was a life of sharecrop farming. People of color were oppressed by a caste system forged from slavery. Even with Emancipation, the official end to slavery in the United States, people of color continued to live restricted and confined lives. They were always subject to extreme unfair and punitive conditions. Mr. Cooper was determined to leave all that behind and once established in San Francisco, help bring his family and others Westward.
He owes a lot of his success to his parents and grandparents who taught him all the skills and virtues needed to live a good life. "My parents had wisdom and good common sense." His father while strict was persistent that all of his children learn how to work and work hard. In his book, Cooper mentions the dedication, strength and determination his parents had in raising children, maintaining a farm and still finding goodness and hope in a world often so lacking.
The caste system of The South was cruel and unrelenting. Pay for hard labor was very minimal. Often his father and others in the African-American community would be cheated out of their wages. Or, they were kept bound in some way to the sharecropping way of life. Yet as Cooper notes, his parents and the African-American community managed to survive and still have faith, love and hope in their hearts.
The world of the South where he came from is vastly different than the society we live in today. Yes, there are still injustices but the caste system that kept people of color from pursing a full and prosperous life has been dismantled. Much is to be credited to the Civil Right Movement and Cooper wants people to know and understand that.
"I am 82 years young," said Cooper and I want to encourage my people to stop fussing over little things. As it is right now, we are our own worst enemy." Cooper made reference to the recent demonstrations and outbursts of violence across the nation over police misconduct and brutality. "The police are not enemies, he said. We just need to understand that police have a particular job and way of thinking. Not everything law enforcement does can be done all our way."
Yet, he did say that, "more of our people (people of color) need to be in the police department." One thing that Cooper is proud to see in his lifetime is that a man of color is in power as President of The United States. "I think President Obama has done a great job in the White House." "It is not an easy job as it is a very critical position." "It is normal for people to be critical of those in power. But for all those who like to point a finger at someone, I like to say, 'when you point a finger at someone, you have four fingers on your own hand pointing back at you.' That's another phrase along with the book title I grew up with," said Cooper.
Along with the need for more participation, self-reliance and independence, Cooper sees much of the financial crisis of today as a result of poor money management. "We are a government of the people, by the people and for the people. People need to be more considerate and realize each person must to his or her part."
Cooper believes strongly in the people at the grass roots level. "When people work with their elected officials then community is strong. Yes there is a lot of bureaucracy but with input from the people at the grass roots level elected officials can do better."
He noted that back when Willie Brown was mayor of San Francisco, hardly anyone from the communities would show up to make comment or to voice concerns, when opportunity was provided. Cooper sees the right to vote as just one of the many opportunities people at the grass-roots level have when dealing with government and bureaucracy.
"I would like all of us to value this country of ours, he said. Even with all its problems and imperfections I wouldn't trade it for anything else."
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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