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Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist donates papers to alma mater

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist donates papers to alma mater
Kenneth J. Cooper COURTESY PHOTO

Ken Cooper’s career in journalism began in the mid ’70s at Washington University in St. Louis, where he worked an internship for the St. Louis American and served as an editor for the school paper.

Now, after an illustrious career in which Cooper became the youngest African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on a Boston Globe series on race in America and covered government, politics and social policy for major news outlets, volumes of Cooper’s personal and professional papers are finding their way back to Washington University to be archived in the school’s library.

The university last week announced its acquisition of Cooper’s papers, which include notes from interviews the longtime Dorchester resident conducted with luminaries such as President Jimmy Carter, his detailed research into his investigations, and drafts of his articles and books.

“It’s a very thorough collection,” said university archivist Sonya Rooney. “You can see his writing process and all the thorough research he did.”

Cooper began his career at the tail end of the first wave of Black journalists entering mainstream newspapers in the late ’70s. His work took him from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to the Boston Globe, Knight Ridder Newspapers and the Washington Post, where he served as a national correspondent covering Congress and as a foreign correspondent heading the South Asia Bureau.

In 2001, he returned to the Globe as a national editor before serving as senior editor at GBH News. He retired last year.

Robin Washington, a Minnesota-based journalist and editor who has served as a regional director for the National Association of Black Journalists, said Cooper has earned respect in journalistic circles for his reporting and integrity.

“He’s been a stable voice of Blackness in national journalism,” said Washington, a former managing editor of the Bay State Banner. “He hasn’t been shy about giving back to the community.”

Cooper, who has contributed as a writer and editor to the Banner over the years, said he decided to donate his papers, which Rooney said take up 20 linear feet of space, because of the historical nature of the material.

“I did a lot of subject matter research as a reporter,” he said. “Maybe more than I should have. That was one of my hallmarks.”

But as a researcher, Cooper noticed a glaring gap in the historical record.

“Black people are under-represented in research,” he noted.

Where better than his alma mater, with its 5.5 million-volume library which houses the literary papers of Samuel Beckett and other notable authors?

“Washington University seemed like the right place,” Cooper said. “When I broached the idea to the university, I was a little surprised they were enthusiastic about the collection.”

Rooney said Cooper’s collection will be available to the public. An index of the papers will be accessible via the University Archives website. There are no plans yet to digitize the collection.

“We do help researchers remotely,” Rooney added. “But only up to a certain point, after which we encourage people to come in.”

Greater Boston News Bureau

Black journalism, Kenneth J. Cooper, Washington University