Reflections on Dr. Samuel DuBois Cook: A Great Teacher and Role Model
When Dr. Samuel DuBois Cook passed away May 29 our nation and world lost a very creative and distinguished political scientist, trailblazing Black scholar, and towering oak role model for his students. I was blessed to be among them as a Spelman College student in his political theory course at Atlanta University.
A Georgia native, he entered Morehouse College when he was 15 years old and was in the same class as his friend and fellow 15-year-old Martin Luther King, Jr. At Morehouse he was student body president and founded the campus chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He received his master and Ph.D. degrees from The Ohio State University and taught at Southern University, Atlanta University, the University of Illinois, UCLA and Duke University. At Duke University he was the first African American to hold a regular faculty appointment at a predominantly White Southern college or university. In 1974 he became president of historically Black Dillard University in New Orleans where he served for 22 years. He also served on the Duke Board of Trustees during his tenure as president of Dillard.
Dr. Cook was the first Black president of the Southern Political Science Association, vice-president of the American Political Science Association, president of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History Inc., and chair of the Presidents of the United Negro College Fund. President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the National Council on the Humanities, President Bill Clinton appointed him to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, and Duke University established the Samuel DuBois Cook Society, the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity, and a postdoctoral fellowship in its Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Gender in the Social Sciences in his honor. Yet his legacy went far beyond his academic positions and many awards. For generations of his students, including me, “Dr. Sam” was a great gift and I’ll never ever forget his jolly laughter, tough critiques but positive encouragements.
When I was a Spelman College student in Atlanta, Dr. Sam was a professor of Political Science and Theory at Atlanta University. I was led to him by historian and Spelman Social Science Department Chair Howard Zinn, my wonderful professor at Spelman who nominated me for a Merrill Scholarship to study abroad my junior year in Paris and Geneva. To prepare me for Europe and the bigger world, Howie’s (as we called him) first step was to send me to Dr. Sam’s political theory course. What a wonderful gift that was. Dr. Sam was an extraordinarily creative, engaging and gifted teacher. His wonderful exercises of asking students to see and create a nation and world vision through the eyes of a wide range of thinkers, activists and political theorists from Gandhi and King to Lenin, Trotsky and Tolstoy grounded me in the crucial importance of seeing and analyzing the world through the lens of others and learning to think out of the box and become a critical thinker.
Dr. Sam was a welcoming, attentive, supportive—and demanding—teacher, always stretching his students to think and act with disciplined intellect, emotion and rigor. I remember his firm but gentle criticism when he returned a paper I gave him during my very busy student sit-in protest days as not being up to his or my standards—telling me that going to jail, or planning to, was no excuse for second rate work. I heard him loud and clear and thank him. He encouraged student participation in the Civil Rights Movement and moderated “town meetings” between civil rights leaders and students, but he emphasized that doing school work was equally important for becoming a leader. I was proud when he joined Duke’s faculty and when he became president of Dillard our friendship continued and he asked me to join Dillard’s board. He and his wonderful wife Sylvia—a sister Spelmanite—were married for more than 50 years and left enduring legacies in all the young people who benefited from their knowledge, caring and hospitality. And what a wonderful laugh he had!
If only every young person was blessed enough to have the kind of teachers who not only serve as mentors and friends but who are thoughtful, intellectually challenging, and morally grounded enough to help shape how they see the world. I thank Dr. Samuel DuBois Cook for his wisdom, integrity, rigor and caring in shaping generations of students to pursue economic justice and civil rights for all. The lessons he taught about seeking and remaining open to many points of view but never losing your moral core are needed now more than ever if we are to raise a new generation who will be servant leaders, globalists, and not isolationists who are able to navigate and lead in a diverse, rapidly changing world.
Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.
Mrs. Edelman’s Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.
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Remembering the Life and Legacy of John F. Kennedy at 100
“One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.”
—President John F. Kennedy, Radio and Television Report to The American People on Civil Rights, June 11, 1963
The trajectory and predominate narrative of the civil rights movement in our nation was forever marked by a single day.
Just after midnight, in the earliest moments of June 12, 1963, Medgar Evers, a beloved civil rights leader, would be shot to death by a white supremacist in the driveway of his home. On that day, two African Americans, Vivian Malone and James Hood, would finally register as students at the University of Alabama under the federal protection of the Alabama National Guard. Earlier that evening, President Kennedy, who had previously—and rightfully—been criticized by civil rights leaders for his tepid, ambivalent embrace of the grand ambitions of the civil rights movement, had addressed our nation and cemented his place in American history as an advocate and partner in the civil rights struggles of African Americans.
President Kennedy’s national address was not supposed to be delivered. Its broadcast depended on the outcome of the protracted battle happening on the campus of the University of Alabama over the enrollment of Malone and Hood. That morning, both prospective students attempted to enroll in the university, but were met by Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace and a phalanx of state troopers blocking the entrance to the university’s campus. That infamous moment, now known as the “stand in the schoolhouse door,” was a futile last stand for Gov. Wallace, who pledged “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” during his inaugural address the very same year. Gov. Wallace stepped aside, Malone and Hood enrolled later that day, and despite the favorable outcome from this very public showdown in Alabama, the president resolved to address our nation and the “moral issue” of civil rights.
To his credit, the president did more than provide lip service on issues of inequality, discrimination, equal access to services, voting rights and more. President Kennedy went a step further and proposed comprehensive civil rights legislation, declaring that “now the time has come for this Nation to fulfill its promise.”
Fear for the passage of the Civil Rights Act led Kennedy initially to oppose the March on Washington. In June of 1963, civil rights leaders including National Urban League President Whitney M. Young, K. Phillip Randolph, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Lewis, met with Kennedy and announced there would be a March. Kennedy feared that any violence at the march would deter members of Congress from voting for the bill. The civil rights leaders would not be deterred, and Kennedy’s enthusiasm for the March grew during the summer. The success of the March paved the way for passage of the Civil Rights Act.
But Kennedy [did not get] to see his civil rights bill passed. A bullet from an assassin’s gun would cut his life short less than three months after the March. It was his successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, who would pass the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited and outlawed racial discrimination and segregation in public accommodations, employment, public education and federally assisted programs. In his address to Congress, President Johnson declared, “we have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. We have talked for one hundred years or more. It is time now to write the next chapter, and to write it in the books of law.” The act, the most sweeping civil rights legislation in the nation’s history since the Reconstruction era, laid the foundation for future progressive legislation, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
By President Kennedy’s request, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law was formed. The nonpartisan group mounted civil rights cases with pro bono support from private lawyers in courtrooms across the nation—and its work continues today. After the March on Washington—an event President Kennedy opposed due to concerns of violence and its possible impact on his civil rights bill—he met with Martin Luther King, Jr. after the march and told him, “I have a dream.” Despite his earlier, well-documented reticence to broadly involve his administration in the growing struggle for equality, President Kennedy personally engaged with the civil rights leaders of his time, hosting the National Urban League’s then-executive director, Whitney M. Young, and president, Henry Steeger III, in 1962 at the White House.
[This past May] we marked the centenary of President Kennedy’s birth. Whatever history has assigned to him as flaws, shortcomings and misdeeds, he believed our country could do better for all of its citizens, regardless of race, color or creed. As we reflect on so much of his enduring legacy, let us recommit ourselves to ensuring that his evolution and eventual stand on civil rights are more than words on a page in a dusty book, but a call to continued action and activism undergirded by the principle that “all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”
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Check back next week to read more from Senator Benjamin L. Cardin.
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