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Jocelyn Cooper Dies at 86; Helped Pave Way for First Black Congresswoman

Jocelyn Cooper encouraged her husband to start The City Sun, a newspaper that took on white and black public figures alike. Credit Jill Jefferson

Jocelyn Clopton Cooper, who helped shift New York’s black political center of gravity from Harlem to Brooklyn and, with her husband, established an alternative voice in journalism, died on Dec. 21 in Brooklyn. She was 86.

The cause was congestive heart failure, her daughter Jocelyn Cooper said.

Through grassroots organizing, registering voters and challenging congressional district lines in court in the early 1960s, Ms. Cooper and her husband, Andrew Cooper, scored victories against the regular Brooklyn Democratic organization. They fielded black candidates under the reform banner and paved the way for the election of Shirley Chisholm in 1968 as the nation’s first black congresswoman.

To finance their legal challenge to racially gerrymandered congressional districts, they took out a third mortgage on their home and, unable to afford a process server, delivered the court papers themselves. Ms. Chisholm won in a new district drawn under court order.

Ms. Cooper, who had recruited her husband to politics, encouraged him to found The City Sun in Brooklyn in 1984. An outgrowth of his Trans Urban News Service, it was a fiercely independent weekly newspaper, taking on white and black public figures alike: Its coverage elicited irate ripostes from Mayor Edward I. Koch, and it published a front-page editorial in 1993 urging David N. Dinkins, New York City’s first black mayor, to be more assertive.

“Frankly,” the editorial said, “you are beginning to look like a wimp.”

The Sun went out of business in 1996. Its alumni include Utrice C. Leid, its managing editor, who was instrumental in starting the paper and who became general manager of the radio station WBAI; Herb Boyd, a journalist, author and educator; and Errol Louis, an NY1 News television host and a Daily News columnist.

Jocelyn Elaine Clopton was born in Jersey City on Jan. 27, 1929, the daughter of Robert Clopton, who worked odd jobs, and the former Lina Sullivan, a waitress. They separated when Jocelyn was 2.

She was raised mostly by her grandparents, who were college educated. She attended Lincoln High School in Jersey City and moved to Brooklyn as a teenager, living there with her future husband’s aunt and step-uncle.

She married Mr. Cooper in 1949. He died in 2002. In addition to her daughter Jocelyn, the founder of the annual Afropunk Fest in Brooklyn, she is survived by another daughter, Andrea Cooper Andrews, the founder of the Young Journalists in Training program at St. Francis College, also in Brooklyn; one grandson; and one great-grandson.

Ms. Cooper earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from Adelphi University on Long Island and worked for New York City’s Community Development Agency (which merged in 1996 with the Department of Youth Services).

She immersed herself in the civil rights movement and in Democratic politics (but supported John V. Lindsay’s Republican campaign for mayor in 1965), initially by campaigning for Thomas R. Jones, who was running for assemblyman and district leader in central Brooklyn. The first supporter she recruited was her husband, who was working the overnight shift at a brewery and was reluctant to attend nighttime political meetings.

“Jocelyn initiated the political activity in the home,” Wayne Dawkins wrote in a biography of Mr. Cooper, “City Son: Andrew W. Cooper’s Impact on Modern-Day Brooklyn” (2012).

Ms. Cooper was a trustee of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.

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