Samuel DuBois Cook, Dillard University president for 23 years, dies at 88

Wednesday, May 31, 2017
The New Orleans Advocate

In 1966, Cook was appointed a professor in the political science department at Duke University, becoming the first African-American professor to hold a regular faculty appointment at any predominantly white college or university in the South. Duke had desegregated its graduate and professional schools in 1961 and its undergraduate school in 1962.

William A. "Sandy" Darity, who is now the Samuel DuBois Cook professor of public policy at Duke and director of Duke's Cook Center on Social Equity, said he admired Cook's courage in accepting the pioneering position at Duke. "He displayed a great amount of grace and dignity in dealing with his situation at Duke, developing warm relationships with his students," Darity said.

"When I speak to alums, they speak about the kind of father figure, the kind of mentor, the kind of guide that Dr. Cook was to all of them, in addition to being just a teacher," said Benjamin Reese, vice president of Duke's Office for Institutional Equity. "The students looked to him for his guidance and mentorship, and he was there for them."

After nine years at Duke, Cook was chosen as president of Dillard, where he initiated a Japanese language studies program, the first at a historically black college, and founded the Center for Black-Jewish Relations.

“I’m against all forms of racism," Cook told Campbell-Rock in 2007. "I believe we all belong to each other: blacks, whites, Orientals. We need to understand each other as members of the human family."

By 1990, enrollment at Dillard had increased to 1,625, about 600 more than when Cook arrived in 1974. Its endowment increased from $5 million in 1974 to more than $40 million.

In 1977, three years after he left Duke, faculty and students there founded the Samuel DuBois Cook Society to promote black studies at the school. While president of Dillard, Cook was a member of the Duke board of trustees from 1981 to 1993.

Darity, a leader of the Cook Society at Duke, said Cook and his wife were regular guests at the society's annual dinners, "just conveying his appreciation for the wide expanse of humanity, deep appreciation for the condition and plight of black people, and commitment to reconciliation and what he and Dr. King called 'the beloved community.' "

The cover of the program for the 2017 Cook Society awards dinner features a quotation from Cook: "The divine search for knowledge, truth and wisdom is by no means alien to the equally divine quest for human decency, justice, compassion, love, peace, and the beloved community of whole and creative persons."

"I've engaged numerous national and international leaders," Darity said, "but I think few of them possess the humility and humanity of Dr. Cook. I hope that we will always carry his values and his love in our hearts and in all we do with our work."

Survivors include his wife; two children, Samuel DuBois Cook Jr. and Karen J. Cook; and two grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday in the Ray Charles Center at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

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