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Bennett J. Cooper

Bennett Cooper was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1921. A few years later the Cooper family moved to Oklahoma, and then to New Orleans where Cooper studied at Xavier University. During his years in Louisiana, Cooper was drafted into the U.S. military and proudly served his country during World War II. 

 After returning from the Pacific Theater, Cooper moved his small family back to Cleveland, Ohio where he started his career with the Cleveland Postal Service. While raising his family and working, Cooper graduated from Case Western Reserve University with a Bachelors, and Masters degree in Psychology. 

After 10 years of service with the Cleveland Postal Service, 1957 brought change to Cooper’s life as he started his career within the Ohio Prison System when he was hired at The Ohio State Reformatory as Director of Psychological Services. Cooper would not stop there. In 1963 he was promoted to Associate Superintendent of Treatment.

In 1966, Cooper was appointed to the position of Warden by Governor James Rhodes, making him the first African American Warden, and the highest ranking African American prison official in the entire United States. 

Cooper served as the Warden of OSR until 1970. In 1970 he would yet again make history as the highest ranking African American prison official, when he was appointed to head Ohio’s entire prison system as Commissioner of the Division of Corrections, and Ohio Department of Mental Hygiene and Corrections. 

Cooper passed away in 2013 and there is so much more to be said,  but his legacy continues as a founder of the National Association of Blacks & Criminal Justice and a pioneer for African Americans, working within the penal systems of the United States. 


The Story Behind The Artifact

This news clipping was found on and comes from the October 10th, 1970 edition of the Mansfield-News Journal.

This copper ship was made for former Warden Bennett Cooper in 1970. It used to hang in the administration area of the Reformatory, but due to restoration it was taken down and put into OSR’s archive storage. About 10 years ago, a member of OSR’s maintenance crew was asked about a ship that they made for an administrator years ago. Our team member knew exactly what he was talking about. He went to the archive storage to dig it out, then sent for the family. When they all gathered in the archive room and our team uncovered it, the man broke down and cried. He then said, “It was one of the good things to come out of OSR for him” before the prison was transitioned into a penitentiary. Due to constant renovation and restoration, maintenance restored and cleaned the artifact 3 times before it was finally put back on display in the Reformatory’s administrative wings.