Dr. George Cooper (Courtesy Photo)

The Obama administration, U.S. Department of Education, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) across the United States, including schools in the D.C. and Baltimore metropolitan areas are in mourning over the passing of Dr. George Cooper. Dr. Cooper served as the executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs.

According to news reports, he died suddenly on July 19 following an illness. A cause of death has not been released. Cooper was 70 years old.

“Dr. George Cooper was a veteran administrator and fearless advocate who devoted his professional life to promoting academic excellence and student success,” said Bowie State University Provost Weldon Jackson. “He was particularly committed to the development of HBCUs and was prominent in his advocacy for the enhancement of these institutions. There is no doubt that George was a difference maker.”

Howard University President Wayne A. I. Frederick identified Cooper as a “champion in the fight for access to higher education.”

Throughout his profession, Cooper stood as a beacon for Black students. Before his role with the White House, he served as the 10th president at South Carolina State University, was on faculty at Alabama A&M University and Tuskegee University, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and in various other leadership positions with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities – Council of 1890 Universities, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association. He also served on the HBCU and Limited Resource Institution Academic Advisory Group.

“Throughout his life, Dr. Cooper was committed to promoting excellence, innovation, and sustainability across our nation’s HBCUs,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said.  “Dr. Cooper provided the wisdom and direction needed to form important partnerships between HBCUs and the federal government. He was staunchly committed to student development and success.”

Born in Tallahassee, Florida, Cooper received his bachelor’s degree in animal husbandry from FAMU, a master’s degree in animal science from Tuskegee University, and a doctoral degree in animal nutrition from the University of Illinois – Urbana.

President Obama said Cooper was invaluable to the progression of HBCUs. “George’s passing is a great loss for my Administration, the HBCU and higher education communities, and for everyone that knew him,” Obama said.

A sense of his loss is reflected on social media by various mourners including dignitaries, businesses, organizations, colleagues and friends who posted their condolences and prayers for Cooper’s family. “RIP to Dr. George Cooper, former SCSU president and head of WH office on HBCUs. Emily and I will keep his family and friends in our prayers,” Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) wrote on July 20.