Eastman Kodak Research Lab
Civil Rights and Educational Activist
CLASS OF 1950
Dr. Walter Cooper is committed to education. “All education, from my philosophical framework, is vital to the future,” he says. Growing up in a large family and as the son of a coal miner, he did not think that it would be possible for him to go to college without taking on an enormous financial burden. However, Cooper had at least two advantages—he was smart and he was fast. He graduated as salutatorian of his high school class and received a scholarship to Washington & Jefferson College. Furthermore, whereas other colleges in Pittsburgh refused to let him compete athletically because he was African- American, W&J welcomed him to their athletic program. ￼
Cooper enjoyed the rigorous academics at W&J. He grew especially fond of Professors Allan Dickie, professor of German, and Bernie Staskiewicz, professor of chemistry, both of whom he describes as scholarly and demanding, but also energetic and excited because they loved the subjects that they were teaching. After earning his degree in chemistry from W&J, Cooper went on to become the first African American to earn a doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Rochester. He had a long and successful career as a scientist at Eastman Kodak Research Labs, where he managed the Office of Research Innovation and became the holder of three patents.
Cooper is living proof that the liberal arts curriculum at W&J prepares students to be involved in a community. As chairman of the education committee of the NAACP from 1959 to 1965, a founding member of the Rochester, New York, Urban League, and Regent of the State of New York for the Seventh Judicial District from 1988 to 1997, he has certainly been a community leader. Cooper was very active during the Civil Rights period, standing shoulder to shoulder with Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr. to educate community leaders and politicians about the unequal treatment of the black community.
As a scientist, community leader, and social activist, Cooper has become a model for many young men and women. He credits his success to W&J saying, simply, “W&J gave me an opportunity to succeed in life.”