By Katie Moison contributing writer
Born in 1951 in the heart of Alabama, Geraldine Cooper experienced the impact of segregation first hand. But despite racial setbacks in her early life she would later find herself as the Morgan County Health Department’s first African.
Growing up in Opelika during years of segregation, Cooper was thankful to have parents who sheltered her and her brother from the ways of society at the time. She attended an all black school in Salem, AL, from grades 1-12, where she claims to have had good teachers and a very good experience overall. “Even though it was segregated we had friends of color that we played with that were neighbors, but my parents kind of sheltered us a lot,” explained Cooper, “Of course if we went to a restaurant we would have to enter through the back door – or my parents did, they never would let us go. I remember going to the bus station a lot though, and they had doors that had color marked on them or a section that black people had to go to.”
In 1970, Geraldine Cooper met her husband in Atlanta where she was attending school at the time. The couple was married by 1971 and moved to Rutledge, where they have lived for over 40 years. In her time here she has been able to witness the area grow and develop in terms of segregation over the years. According to Cooper, “I remember when I first started working I was the only black person working at the health department at the time. When I applied for the job as a health aid assistant, I didn’t know I was going to get it. They thought it was a good idea to hire me to make the staff more diverse.” Cooper was hired at the Morgan County Health Department on July 15, 1974. In the beginning, her job consisted of mostly home visiting or whatever else was asked of her. She worked in both Morgan and Walton counties, as aids were assigned two counties at the time. Her duties also included making appointments and contacting patients as well as other outreach assignments.
In 1981 she became the first permanent employee at the health department, working strictly as an outreach worker mainly in Morgan County. In 2000 she also applied for another position at the health department as bookkeeper, which also made her the first black bookkeeper there. On August 1, 2007, she retired from the Morgan County Health Department. Cooper enjoyed her time working at the health department and being apart of its early diversification. She said, “I always felt like it was good to have someone like me, another black person, meeting and greeting clients as they came in so it could be seen as diverse and people would know ‘the health department is here for me too!’, and that’s the way it is now – it’s diverse in Morgan County. When I was there, a lot of people from other counties envied Morgan County because we had a very good relationship with each other and with the community. I hope it is still that way.”