Breaking barriers in the City of Progress

Published: Feb. 8, 2022 at 6:01 PM CST
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ENTERPRISE, Ala. (WTVY) -- Enterprise Mayor William E. Cooper has spent nearly his entire life in the Wiregrass, educating thousands and breaking barriers along the way.

A native of Dothan, Cooper was born in 1943.

It didn’t take long for him to find the calling that would change his life.

“In the seventh grade is when I started playing in the band,” Cooper added. “I played trumpet.”

Over the years, he attended several segregated schools, including what used to be Carver High.

“We had what we needed over there, and we felt like some of the things that might have been happening in other places, just didn’t happen in Dothan at the time,” Cooper said.

Cooper says his band directors and teachers made a huge impact on his life but none bigger than his older brother.

“When I was in 11th grade, I ended up in his American government class, and I tell you what, from there up until today, I think that’s why I’m in politics.”

At 16, Cooper graduated from Carver High.

It was 1959, and he was on his way to Alabama State on a band scholarship.

“I thought I was the best trumpet player around until I got up to Alabama State, and I found out that there were some other hot lips up there, we call them, that were good at playing the trumpet,” Cooper continued. “So that was competition.”

It was a time of unrest in Alabama, and he saw it firsthand in the capitol city.

Coming out of a church to police on horses, K-9s, and fire hoses.

Cooper watched from afar as many were beaten and sprayed.

“I was scared to death, because I had never seen anything like this in my life, and it was just, it was something that I even today, when I think about it, it’s scary.”

Cooper and his classmates also saw a cross burning at the foot of their stadium a message from the KKK.

“It was a frightening situation, because we didn’t know whether the next thing to do was to go come in, burn down the dormitories or come there and do something to us.”

Despite these moments, Cooper kept on perfecting his craft. He played at civil rights rallies for iconic leaders.

“Dr. King asked me would I play ‘Precious Lord’,” Cooper recalled. “Truly he could call me by name.”

By 1963, Cooper was 20, finished with college, and considering his next steps.

He knew he wanted to share his love for music through teaching.

“I was going to Enterprise, Alabama.”

Cooper took the band director position at Coppinville, an all-black high school, growing the program to what we now call the ‘Green and Gold Machine’.

“The first time our band won third place as far as the state. Then, we went back the next year and won second place. We were rated and had the second-best band in the state.”

Five years into teaching, Congress ordered schools to integrate.

“I found out that students were just students, regardless of what color they were, and they were in the band because they wanted to be in band,” Cooper said. “You didn’t have to take band, those students wanted to learn.”

During his 42-year tenure with Enterprise City Schools Cooper found another calling.

He was appointed to city council in 1987.

“I knew that there were a lot of people that did not accept me when I first went on the council because of the fact of my color,” Cooper said.

He was then appointed council president.

“My idea was to try to serve and represent the people that I was supposed to represent and try to be the best at what I was doing.”

Cooper was elected seven times, serving District 1 for 30 more years.

When sitting mayor Kenneth Boswell resigned in 2017, as the council president, Cooper became the first person of color appointed to lead the City of Progress.

“My first year, I’m telling the truth, I stayed on my knees as much as I did on my feet because I was praying to the good Lord to lead and guide me in the right direction and that for me not to do anything stupid.”

In 2020, Cooper was officially elected as mayor.

“Enterprise has come a long way, and I feel like that we still have a long way to go, but we are blessed with the type of people who have a bright future and a vision that we’re working toward moving in that direction,” Cooper finished.

Copyright 2022 WTVY. All rights reserved.

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