T.S. Cooper’s legacy honored

Published 3:54 pm Thursday, March 21, 2024

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SUNBURY – The Gates County Historical Society will dedicate a historic marker honoring T. S. Cooper at 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 23 at the school.

T.S. Cooper

All who are interested in Mr. Cooper’s outstanding career and dedication to Gates County schools are invited to attend. A reception will follow in the school’s cafeteria.

Cooper was an important figure in education in Gates County for more than four decades. His impact and legacy – first as a teacher, then as a principal – on the black community was immeasurable.

When Cooper resigned as principal of Gates Training School at the end of the 1947-48 school year after approximately 40 years of service, it was that class who honored him by urging that the school be renamed T.S. Cooper School.

The school board agreed, and the school has stood in Sunbury as K-5 elementary school for several decades. After Cooper retired, he taught in the Gates County agricultural program for veterans. He was the first African American on the Board of Trustees at Elizabeth City State Teachers College, and he also served as president of the Elizabeth City State Alumni Association.

He passed away on March 25, 1970.

Thomas Settle Cooper was born Sept. 23, 1876 in Windsor. He graduated from Elizabeth City State Colored Normal School (later renamed Elizabeth City State University) and earned a bachelor of arts degree from Virginia Union University, a bachelor of science from Hampton Institute and a masters from Columbia University.

From 1903-07, Cooper supervised principals of Elizabeth City Colored Schools and was a leader in Local Educational Congress Organization. He sought to keep African American youth in school and away from a life of crime.

In 1912, he helped establish an Industrial School in Sunbury.

In 1919, Cooper was appointed principal of Gates County Training School. Under his leadership, the school became an accredited high school, and was the first high school for African Americans in Gates County.

Cooper, along with the Gates County School Building Committee, worked to raise matching funds to qualify for Rosenwald Funds.

Eight years later (1927-28), a new school was built with Rosenwald Funds – the last Rosenwald School built in Gates County.

During his tenure, the name of school was changed three times: from Gates Institute it became Gates County Training School, then Gates Training School, and then finally to T.S. Cooper upon his retirement.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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