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Centenarian honored by Obama dies

Ann Nixon Cooper co-founded a Girls Club and taught community residents how to read in a tutoring program.
Ann Nixon Cooper co-founded a Girls Club and taught community residents how to read in a tutoring program.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ann Nixon Cooper died at her home 19 days shy of 108th birthday
  • During inauguration, Obama spoke of Cooper as symbol of America's struggles, progress
  • When Obama was sworn in as president, Cooper called it one of the greatest days of her life
  • Cooper told CNN the secret to long life was "being cheerful" and a "happy person"

Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) -- Ann Nixon Cooper, the Atlanta centenarian whose name Barack Obama invoked in his post-election speech as a symbol of America's struggles and progress, died Monday. She was 107.

In his victory speech in Chicago, Obama said of Cooper, who was African-American: "She was born just a generation past slavery ... when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons -- because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

"At a time when women's voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot."

When Obama was sworn in as president, Cooper called it one of the greatest days of her life.

"There was a time when they thought they could just kick us around," she said on Inauguration Day. "Now, it has changed."

Cooper, who was just 19 days shy of her 108th birthday, died at her home surrounded by loved ones, friend Sally Warner told CNN.

Cooper was born in Shelbyville, Tennessee, in 1902 and grew up in Nashville with uncles and an aunt who worked as domestic help for wealthy whites.

Video: Centenarian votes for Obama
RELATED TOPICS
  • Atlanta
  • Barack Obama

She married Albert Cooper, a prominent dentist, in Nashville in 1922, and the couple moved to Atlanta, where they raised four children and were members of black society.

She co-founded a Girls Club for African-American youths and taught community residents how to read in a tutoring program at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached.

"Our days and nights were just social affairs," she recalled to CNN in 2008. Celebrities, including the late singer Nat King Cole, dropped in to visit.

Three of Cooper's four children have died; her surviving daughter, who was by her mother's side Monday, is 84.

When asked about the secret to her longevity, Cooper told CNN, "I don't know how it happened, but being cheerful had a lot to do with it. I've always been a happy person, a giggling person -- a wide-mouthed person!"

To young people, Cooper offered this advice: "Keep smiling. No matter what, you get out and vote. Vote your choice."

 
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