Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Grandma made famous by Obama speech publishes book

Just after the first World War, a young, black and gifted teenage girl began to evolve into a beautiful woman in Nashville.

Ann spent her leisure time with her cousin Irene, who was 13 years older and a schoolteacher at the all-black school in town.

They spent a lot of Saturday afternoons in a dance class that attracted young men from nearby Fisk and Meharry Medical colleges. Ann was allowed to date slightly older men, once Irene approved.

And there were many who were interested.

"I have to tell you, I had a lot of admirers back then," Ann writes in her new book. "I was little — well under 5 feet and under 100 pounds — but I had a womanly build. I had a really good figure — people always told me so — but I was proudest of my legs. They were great legs and still are.

"Fortunately for me, the style at the time called for shorter dresses so I got to show off my legs a lot. And the young men appreciated that."

This is just one of the stories Ann Nixon Cooper, my 107-year-old grandmother, recounts in A Century and Some Change: My Life Before the President Called My Name.

Ever since President Barack Obama made her remarkable life the cornerstone of his election night speech, she has enjoyed newfound celebrity.

She immediately became the subject of television and newspaper interviews, and that soon gave way to book-deal offers.

I couldn't be more pleased with how author Karen Grigsby Bates wove together interviews and photos from my grandmother and her friends and relatives for the book, published by a division of Simon & Schuster.

The book goes on sale in January.

It is both heart-warming and awe-inspiring to read about how historical moments have touched her life. Segregation forced her to birth her two oldest children in a makeshift clinic.

"If you were black, you could not go to the white hospitals in Atlanta to have your baby," she explains in the book. "You could go to the doctor's offices to be seen, but if he had white patients, you had to wait out in the hallway or on the porch."

She also describes enjoying a Coca-Cola when Atlanta's downtown eateries, such as the old Rich's department store lunch counter, finally became integrated.

"I don't even drink soda, but I had to sit down and have one after that."

I've heard many of the stories before, but Bates has crystallized the moments while capturing all of my grandmother's Southern-flavored charm and sense of decorum.

Grandmama explains she could never imagine going to church without a hat.

And she couldn't believe it when blacks began to grow afros and fluff up their hair with "picks."

"I used the same kind of fork to cut angel food cake for the ladies when I hosted a tea that some of the young folk used to comb their hair."

Such culture shock humor is rooted in the high-minded values she learned as a child. I kept finding pearls of wisdom from her yesteryears that I want to share with my children.

They can divine so much from the adoration she had for my grandfather and her sense of community service.

She longed to instill the values of the Boy Scouts in her son and his friends, but the group wasn't integrated back then. So she petitioned Scouting and eventually started Atlanta's first all-black troop.

My kids could also learn from her ability to laugh, love and enjoy each day.

Despite the book and the fame, health challenges have made this my grandmother's most difficult year.

I'm not sure how much longer she will be with us here, but she often says she persevered through heartache and hardships not only for herself, but for all the people depending on her.

This book is just the latest example of her perseverance.

That's all I'm saying.

Grandma made famous by Obama speech publishes book 12/17/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 17, 2009 11:29pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. What you need to know for Tuesday, Oct. 17

    News

    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today

    Neil deGrasse Tyson will speak at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday. We talked to him ahead of time. Check out what he had to say. [Patrick Eccelsine/FOX]
  2. We asked Neil deGrasse Tyson to rate 'space things' like 'Star Wars' vs. 'Star Trek'

    Events

    Neil deGrasse Tyson is making a habit out of visiting Tampa.

    Neil deGrasse Tyson will speak at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts on Oct. 19. [Patrick Eccelsine/FOX]
  3. HQ2 watch: As deadline looms for Amazon headquarters pitch, one metro bows out

    Business

    If there's one national business saga to keep up on these days, it's the frenzy by metropolitan areas — including Tampa Bay — to make their best pitches to Amazon in the hope of being chosen as the new location for the giant online retailer's second massive headquarters. HQ2, as it is called, would create …

    Cities across the country are trying to land Amazon's second headquarters, known as HQ2. In Birmingham, Ala., giant Amazon boxes were constructed and placed around the city as part of its "Bring A to B" campaign. [Ali Clark/Bring A to B Campaign]
  4. Charlie Strong, Gulf High and the best (old) Jon Gruden-Tennessee rumor

    Blogs

    As Butch Jones keeps losing, Tennessee Vols fans are turning to one of the media's favorite pastimes.

    Jon Gruden coaching rumors.

  5. Lightning edges Red Wings on road

    Lightning Strikes

    DETROIT — The digs were different, the Lightning seeing the masterfully-done new Little Caesar's Arena for the first time.

    Lightning center/Red Wings’ killer Tyler Johnson gets past defenseman Trevor Daley on his way to the first goal of the game.