St. James to honor Oliver Cooper Sr.

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, July 22, 2014

By Stephen Hemelt

ST. JAMES — Fifth District residents and the greater St. James Parish community are encouraged to celebrate the region’s seminal black leader, Oliver Cooper Sr.

Cooper, 84, who died Aug. 29, 2013, will be honored posthumously in front of family and friends at 5 p.m. Friday at Welcome Park in St. James. All are invited.

St. James Parish Council Chairman Charles Ketchens said the location in the Fifth District is a fitting place to honor Cooper, because he was instrumental in the parish’s purchase of the park land created through a 1-mill tax of fifth district residents.

Ketchens said Cooper, the parish’s first black representative on either the police jury or parish council, paved the way for a more inclusive government in St. James Parish while making it possible for himself and other black leaders to serve the community.

“Oliver Cooper made that possible,” Ketchens said. “He paved the way for blacks. He paved the way for all of us. He made a whole lot of stuff possible.”

Cooper’s influence was seen in the development of the Boys and Girls Scouts of the 5th District, streetlights and pavements, the district’s senior center, desegregation of St. James High School and the growth of Welcome Park and the area’s recreational programs, among many other endeavors.

St. James Parish President Timothy Roussel said he was honored to have worked with Cooper, who he described as a politician who truly cared about the people, advocated for jobs and wasn’t afraid to fight for what he believed in. 

“When (Cooper) gave you his word on something, he didn’t play any silly politics with it,” Roussel said. “If he made a commitment and said, ‘Timmy I’m with you on that situation,’ nobody could have pulled him away for anything. He was a man of his word. That is rare these days in politics.”

Friday’s program will cover Cooper’s background, his family will be presented a plaque and some of the councilmen are expected to broach the possibility of naming the park after Cooper.

Cooper’s son, the Rev. Marshall L. Cooper Sr., pastor of Pilgrim Full Gospel Church in Convent, said his father valued integrity, often choosing his commitment to the parish over the pull of family.

“He realized if he did for his people, his family would be taken care of,” Marshall said of his father. “He said the people were the ones who put him there, so he was going to work for the people. Don’t get me wrong, he took care of his own family, but the needs of the people in the community were a passion for him. 

“He had the drive, which I guess was God-given. He had a mandate in him for helping people and bringing people out of bondage.”

Marshall said his father wanted his constituents to know what was available to them and never solely focused on race despite his trailblazing status.  

Anytime an industry would locate in St. James Parish, according to Marshall, Cooper would make sure the industry would promise to accommodate the people in the community.

“A very strong point he made with all industry was to hire local people — and train them if they weren’t trained — so they could possess a job in the community,” he said.