MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — WKRG News 5 continues to recognize trailblazers during Black History Month.
News 5 recognizes the first Black person to command a Marine Corps infantry company, General Gary Cooper.
Born in 1936, Cooper grew up in Mobile.
He graduated from McGill-Toolen Catholic High School and the University of Notre Dame.
At the time, the University of Alabama would not accept Black students, motivating his decision to attend Notre Dame.
After graduating from college in 1958, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps.
Throughout his career, Cooper earned the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts, and the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross.
His success eventually got him promoted to the rank of Major General.
Cooper also served as the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force under President George H.W. Bush.
Under President Bill Clinton, he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica.
Today, Cooper strives to help uplift the black community.
His son, Patrick, said his father’s commitment to the black community comes from the General’s adverse experience growing up in the Jim Crow south.
“I’m very proud of what he’s done in the Mobile community, but particularly in the Black community. He’s been a product of the segregation here, but always wanted to come back to his hometown and make a difference,” said Patrick Cooper.
General Cooper still lives in Mobile with his wife Beverly. He’s active in several community organizations, including the NAACP and the 100 Black Men of Mobile.