Samuel DuBois Cook, first black professor at Duke, dies at 88

Wednesday, May 31, 2017
The News and Observer

DURHAM 
The first African-American to hold a regular-rank, tenured post on Duke University’s faculty, Dr. Samuel DuBois Cook, died Tuesday at age 88, campus officials said.

He was the first black tenured professor at a predominantly white college or university in the formerly segregated South.

A political scientist, Dr. Cook joined the Duke faculty in 1966 and stayed until 1974, when he moved on to become the president of Dillard University in New Orleans. He held that office until 1997.

Dr. Cook “was the bearer of the vision of the beloved community and, throughout his life, worked for a society based on inclusion, reconciliation, and mutual respect for all,” Duke President Richard Brodhead said of a scholar who also served as a Duke trustee from 1981 to 1993.

A Georgia native, Dr. Cook secured an undergraduate degree from Morehouse College before going to earn his master’s and Ph.D. from The Ohio State University. His faculty career also included stints at South University, Atlanta University, the University of Illinois and the University of California-Los Angeles.

At Duke, he and other professors help mediate the 1969 Allen Building sit-in, underscoring his later observation that the early-1960s successes of the Civil Rights Movement evolved into “a different ballgame altogether” when groups started pursuing “institutional change.”

Over the years, Dr. Cook told interviewers that he was welcomed on the Duke campus most warmly by students, and that he’d received support at key moments from several campus trustees rather than the university’s top administrators.

It’s “one of the quirks of fate” that things then worked out as they did because of the family relationship between some of his students and some of the trustees, he said in one interview.

His subsequent move to Dillard University saw Dr. Cook take the presidency of a historically black institution. His 22-year stay there featured a 50 percent expansion of enrollment and improvements to the quality of the school’s faculty, Dillard officials said.

Throughout, he retained his Duke ties, and after his retirement, the Durham school took steps to honor him. They included the 1997 creation of the Samuel DuBois Cook Society and eventually the establishment of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity.

 

 

“One of the things that’s unique about Dr. Cook is the total fusion between scholarship and activism” in his career, the center’s director, professor William Darity, said during its 2015 naming ceremony. “There’s never been any sense that these are separate activities.”

Dr. Cook is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Sylvia F. Cook; children Samuel DuBois Cook Jr. and Karen J. Cook; and grandchildren Alexandra Renee Cook and Samuel DuBois Cook III. His funeral is at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, June 6, at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

Throughout, he retained his Duke ties, and after his retirement, the Durham school took steps to honor him. They included the 1997 creation of the Samuel DuBois Cook Society and eventually the establishment of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity.

View the full tribute here