Celebration: The Naming of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity

Thursday, August 27, 2015
The Cook Center

As students returned to class for the start of the fall 2015 semester, nearly 200 people joined Dr. Samuel DuBois Cook and his family to celebrate the naming of the Duke University's first center on social equity after him.

The center -- the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity -- is dedicated to the study of the causes of, consequences of, and potential remedies for global inequality. It was named officially in late June after a vote by Duke’s Board of Trustees.

The naming resolution describes Cook, the first African-American professor at Duke in 1966, a Duke trustee emeritus and president emeritus of Dillard University, as “a dedicated champion of inclusion in education and human rights.” Cook founded a campus chapter of the NAACP while a student at Morehouse College and helped register voters in Atlanta in the 1950s. Martin Luther King Jr. was his classmate. His mentor was former Morehouse president Benjamin E. Mays.

“You’ve led a remarkable life and today we are annexing your life to the fame of this organization,” said Duke University President Richard H. Brodhead during his remarks in the Nasher Museum of Art lecture hall. "Some might say we are honoring you by naming the center after you, but everyone knows the truth. We are honoring ourselves and this center by appropriating your name."

Brodhead was among several Duke administrators, including Provost Sally Kornbluth and Dean Valerie Ashby of Trinity College, who attended the invitation-only event.

"I'm here today because of the college but I want you to know I'm really here today because this is personal," said Ashby, addressing Cook directly. "I really understand that if you had not been here first, I would not be here now. So I want to say thank you to you for your courage and excellent scholarship. 

The Cook family, including wife Sylvia and children Karen Cook and Sam Cook Jr, attended as well as several nieces. Professor William Darity, director of The Cook Center, introduced the center’s staff and supporters and gave an overview of thematic research areas. At the end of the program, in an emotional moment, Darity presented Cook with the framed resolution signed by David Rubenstein, chair of Duke’s Board of Trustees, President Brodhead, and Richard Riddell, Secretary to the Board of Trustees.

Family friend Billye S. Aaron, co-founder of the Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation, offered keynote remarks recounting Cook’s experiences in childhood and adolescence that impelled him to become a trailblazer and mentor to so many.

Clarence G. Newsome, a current Duke trustee, who described Cook as a personal mentor, offered remarks that praised Cook’s commitment to integrity and challenged the center to live up to the high standards set by Cook.

Other speakers included Benjamin Reese, vice president for institutional equity and director of the Cook Society, which honors Cook annually with a dinner and awards ceremony, and, by video, Congressman G.K. Butterfield  (D-NC) who genially described the honor as “a pretty big deal.”

“We have much to do to reach the bar set by Dr. Cook’s accomplishments,” said Darity. “We will do our very best to meet those standards.

View photos of the celebration here.