Cook, Samuel DuBois 1928–
Samuel DuBois Cook 1928–
He has six honorary doctorates. Tributes ranging from Torch of Liberty Award from the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith to the “Distinguished Americans Award, “a 1989 accolade from the New Orleans Chapter of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame. He also has a building named after him at Dillard University in New Orleans, where he has been president for the past 22 years. But gratifying as these honors are, Samuel DuBois Cook gets far greater satisfaction from knowing he has found a way to heal the jagged rift between two former fast friends-African Americans and their Jewish fellow-citizens.
It is a dream he has harbored for many years. To make it come true he had to persuade both groups to agree to talk to each other, so they could discuss the thorny issues that were driving them apart. It all took a great deal of effort but Cook had excellent reasons for his iron determination to succeed. “We believe that Blacks and Jews in America share a history of oppression and common enemies whose final goal is genocide,” he has repeatedly said. “We believe that the philosophical differences between Blacks and Jews shrink to the size of a thimble when compared to the common interests and concerns that we share. And finally, with all my heart, I believe that when Blacks and Jews fight one another, God cries.”
Cook’s inborn commitment to civil rights found a natural outlet when he decided to study for an undergraduate degree at Morehouse College in Atlanta. The only all-male Black university in America, Morehouse prided itself on turning out future leaders in all fields. Among its alumnae of earlier years, the university could count Atlanta mayors Andrew Young and Maynard Jackson, as well as track and field athlete Edwin Moses; later, Cook himself became a revered role-model, as did classmate Martin Luther King, Jr. Morehouse success in meeting its long-held mission of leadership training lay partly in the thorough grounding it gave its students in their own history and culture. But, as Cook told Ebony magazine in 1966, an even more important education came from the example set by Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, the college president. “He elevated our sights, revealed to us our own inner and higher possibilities and what we could make of ourselves through hard work, decency, integrity and character,” Cook
At a Glance…
Born November 21, 1928, in Griffin, Georgia; son of Reverend and Mrs. M.E. Cook; married to Sylvia Fields Cook, children: Samuel DuBois Cook, Jr., Karen Jarcelyn. Education: A.B., Morehouse College, 1948, M.A., The Ohio State University, 1950, Ph.D., TheOhio State University, 1954.
Career: Social Science Specialist, U.S. Army, 1953-55; Associate Professor, Southern University, 1955-56; Professor and Chairman, Atlanta University, 1956-66; Visiting Professor, University of Illinois, 1962-63; Associate Professor, Duke University, 1966-1971; Professor of Political Science, Duke University, 1971-74; President, Dillard University, 1975-1997.
Selected Honors: Outstanding Professor Award, 1967-68, student body, Duke University, 1967-68; Torch of Liberty Award, Anti-Defamation League of B’nei Brith, 1979; Outstanding Leadership Award, Morehouse College Alumni Association, 1982; Governor’s Special Recognition Award, presented by Governor David C Treen, 1983; Weiss Brotherhood Award, National Conference of Christians and Jews, for Distinguished Service in the Field of Human Relations, 1989.
Honorary Degrees: Doctor of Laws, Morehouse College, 1972; Doctor of Humane Letters, The Ohio State University, 1977; Doctor of Laws, duke University, 1979; Doctor of Laws, Illinois College, 1979; Doctor of Laws, Chicago Theological Seminary, 1988; Doctor of Humane Letters, University of New Orleans, 1989.
Member: Board of Trustees, the Kirkpatrick Fund, American Political Science Association, 1994-; Board of Directors, Inroads/New Orleans, Inc., 1994-; Advisory Board, Institute for International Public Policy, 1995-; Council Member, The United States Holocaust Memorial Council (appointed by President Bill Clinton), 1996-.
recalled. “He said we were our dreams; we were what we aspired to be.”
Cook himself aspired towards a career as a political scientist. Well aware that an undergraduate degree was but a first step to fulfilling his dream, he went straight to Ohio State University after his 1948 graduation, earning a master’s degree in 1950, and a Ph.D. four years later.
Two years as a social science specialist in the U.S. Army followed. Then, embarking upon the teaching that would occupy him for the next twenty years, in 1955 Cook accepted an associate professorship at Southern University. His next appointment as professor and chairman of the political science department at Atlanta University was considerably longer. He spent ten years in this post, spending his sabbatical year in 1962 as a visiting professor the University of Illinois. In the fall of 1966, Cook moved to Durham, North Carolina to take an appointment as an associate professor of political science at Duke University. Concurrently serving as Director of Undergraduate Studies in Political Science, he won so much respect from his students that they presented him with their Outstanding Professor Award for 1967-68.
By the time he was promoted to a professorship of political science at Duke in 1971, Cook had also published several thoughtful papers on the burgeoning civil rights movement. “Is a Christian Grounding of Democracy Necessary?” was one question he posed in the Journal of Religious Thought in 1957, two years after seamstress Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama. “Who and What will Honor Martin Luther King Jr.?” was an anguished plea published in the Journal of Negro History, during the mourning period after King’s 1968 murder.
In November of 1973 he was still at Duke University when the president of Dillard University in New Orleans resigned. He applied for the post, was appointed in April of 1974, and walked into his off ice for the first time on January 1, 1975. It was not long before his students discovered how their new president intended to run their college: “The first and foremost goal of Dillard, and Black education in particular,” he told Jet magazine shortly before taking office, “is academic excellence. Such excellence is the key to Black liberation.” In a March, 1978 speech on the Dillard campus, President Cook enlarged upon this theme, making front page news in The Atlanta Daily World. “Academic excellence in the Black college is the key to liberation,” declared Dr. Cook. “The Black college is a weapon of social reform, humanistic progress, and historical reform.”
By this time Cook was three years into his presidency at Dillard, and sufficiently settled to have put his profound devotion to social reform into practice. He was particularly concerned about the deteriorating relationship between Black Americans and their Jewish fellow-citizens. As he had noted several times, the two groups had much in common. Each had suffered a holocaust, the Blacks through slavery and the Jews through the Nazis. Both had suffered at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan; both had endured humiliating restrictive covenants which had prevented them from living anywhere they chose. And without question, each group had, on many occasions, found themselves barred from studying in the country’s best colleges or working for top companies.
During the first half of the twentieth century this common bond of ostracism had produced a relationship of strong cooperation and sympathy between the Jewish and African American communities. Eminent Jews such as Rabbi Stephen Wise and social worker Lillian Wald had worked alongside W.E.B. DuBois for the birth of the NAACP in 1909, while cofounder Joel Spingarn had not only given his name to a medal honoring achievement in the Black community, but had also headed the NAACP from 1930 until 1939. During the World War II years the sympathy had flowed from Blacks to Jews, when appalled African American soldiers helped to liberate starved and maimed victims of Hitler’s concentration camps. With the beginning of the 1950s the wheel had turned once more, when the landmark 1954 Brown us. Board of Education of Topeka case had swept away “separate but equal” education forever. The hard won victory had been wrested by six lawyers, five of whom were Jewish.
This background of mutual support should have induced the two outcast groups to band together against permanently against a world overtly and covertly hostile by turns. Instead, despite the strong links between the two communities during the early years of the 1960s, by the end of the decade Jewish and Black Americans were becoming increasingly antagonistic towards each other.
What was the divisive factor? Julius Lester, Professor of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst suggests that it was nationalism in both groups. In 1994 the Chicago Tribune quoted Lester’s opinion that, by the mid-1960s Black Americans were bent on obtaining their long-overdue civil rights, while Jews were already concerned solely with Israel and the 1967 Six-Day War. Lester, who is both Black and Jewish, recalls two other exacerbating factors. The first, upsetting to African Americans, was Israel’s longtime links with South Africa. The second, an ominous sign to Jews, was the new bond between Black Americans and the violently anti-Israel Palestine Liberation Organization Jews. It was these two changes, concluded Lester, that caused each group to turn inward and away from the other.
A further sign of deepening rifts between two former friends began in 1972, with the Bakke case. Involving an ex-Marine engineer named Allen Paul Bakke who was denied admission to the University of California Medical School, this lawsuit dragged on until Bakke’s eventual Supreme Court victory in 1978. In the intervening six years heated opinions about affirmative action and racial quotas were exchanged regularly between Jewish and Afro-American communities.
The Bakke case was still in its final stages in 1977, when Dr. Cook and 23 other professors were selected by the Association for the study of Afro-American Life and History, to visit Israel. On his return, Cook’s comments to the Los Angeles Sentinel showed his fervent belief that a strong sense of kinship should exist between American Blacks and their Jewish fellow-citizens: “The world and human history have suffered too long and too much from racism and anti-Semitism. In the affirmation and pursuit of justice, in fighting against both, we are affirming universal values and goals beyond Jews and Blacks.”
While American scholars were beginning to heed Cook’s words, the Black-Jewish rifts in the broader population continued to widen, Jews burning with fury when they heard Minister Louis Farrakhan’s 1984 condemnation of their faith as a “gutter religion”—an epithet which, according to the New York Times of June 29, he later denied. There was even more displeasure in 1987, when Blacks chose to support the exploding Arab Intifada in the Middle East.
Cook watched these developments with mounting dismay, determined to do whatever was necessary to change the mounting atmosphere of distrust between the two formerly friendly groups. Moving swiftly, he organized a national conference on Black-Jewish relations, which he chaired in April 1989, on the campus of Dillard University.
This first encounter between Black and Jewish scholars was a wary one, featuring dangerous undercurrents of tension. Each group was wary of the other’s intentions, especially since Eugene Sawyer, a popular Black politician, had lost his bid to become mayor of Chicago because a flood of anti-Semitic comments from an aide had robbed him of valuable Jewish support. Centering around the ever-important question of affirmative action and racial quotas with regard to education and job opportunities, the conference theme proved a touchy issue, sparking discussion so heated that at least one participant longed to leave. However, every single delegate found at least one important point of unity with his fellows-his consternation at the election of David Duke, former Ku Klux Klan member, to the Louisiana Legislature.
Cook found this point of agreement heartening, in terms of future cooperation between the two groups. “The ultimate logic of anti-Semitism and racism is the same: genocide for both groups.” He later told the Washington Post. “Whatever separates Jews and Blacks pales into insignificance in comparison to what unites us. Blacks and Jews should be using their organizational resources, institutional forces and creative individual talent to fight formidable common enemies, not each other.”
At the end of 1990 Dr. Cook announced that Dillard would shortly become the first university in America to form a National Center for Black-Jewish Relations. The new organization was to have three clearcut aims: to act as a clearing house for information on racism and anti-Semitism; to find as many ways as possible to bring out the best and most humanitarian traits of both cultures, and most importantly, to have annual conferences, which would focus on various ways in which Blacks and Jews could rebuild their historic alliance.
Firmly committed to the idea, Dillard University publicized its loyal support with an initial $100,000 for operating expenses. Shortly afterwards, grants began to pour in, one of the first being a $25,000 gift from the Jewish Chautauqua Society, a men’s group whose principal mission is sponsoring educational programs which further understanding of the Jewish religion and culture.
While the first conference had spotlighted the split between Black and Jewish Americans, the second, held in April 1990, discussed ways in which Blacks and Jews could help each other in local communities where crime and lack of job opportunities were major concerns. Participants found this theme so helpful and worthwhile that they looked eagerly looked forward to the conference of 1992, and its suggestions for fruitful new bonds. This time, debate analyzed ways to encourage Black and Jewish college students to learn about each other’s cultures, so that they could retool civil rights activities to suit the difficult new issues confronting them in the 1990s. Dr. Benjamin Hooks, himself on the point of retiring from the presidency of the NAACP, drew the attention of his audience to previous great achievements with a tart reminder reported verbatim in the Times-Picayune of April 15, 1992. “The civil rights movement didn’t begin on a bus,” declared Dr. Hooks, “but thousands of years ago, when God came down to deliver the Jews from the pharoah.”
By 1996, as Dr. Cook had always wished, the annual Black-Jewish Conference was in its seventh year, and had long been an accepted part of Dillard University life. The time was right, he felt, for a theme stemming from the very souls of the tortured Black and Jewish history. “The Music of the Synagogue and the Black Church—A Cry for Freedom,” carried an underlying message, in the form of a plea to each to treat the other’s heritage and values with respect.
Commenting on the success of this meeting in the Winter, 1996 issue of the Dillard University National Center for Black-Jewish Relations Newsletter, Dr. Cook noted: “In the years that have passed since our first Black-Jewish Conference, we have received an overwhelmingly positive response to the concept of rebuilding the Black-Jewish Alliance. . .We are deeply moved to go on with our work by the lessons of oppression that have time and again made Blacks and Jews common victims of bigots and anti-Semites whose ultimate goal is genocide. The rejuvenation of this great and uniquely American coalition is worthy of our best efforts to rebuild it, reshape it, and recharge it.”
For a decade, this mission had occupied a part of Cook’s life, a time-span superseded only by his 22-year stewardship of Dillard University. By the end of 1966, he felt he had accomplished what he had set out to do on both fronts. At the October meeting of the University Trustees, 67-year-old Dr. Samuel DuBois Cook announced that he would retire in June of 1997, at the end of the academic year. As always, his reasons for this decision were clearcut: “It is time for new, younger, and more vigorous leadership. It is time for the infusion of fresh ideas, vision, energy and vitality,” he said.
American Political Science Review, LI, 1957.
Jerusalem Post, August 8, 1989, p. 4.
Journal of Negro History, XLV 1960.
Review of Higher Education AmongNegroes, XXIXC, 1961.
The New South, Summer, 1966.
The New South, Summer, 1971.
Black Issues in Higher Education, December 3, 1992.
O’Neill, Timothy J, Bakke: and the Politics of Equality, Wesleyan University Press, 1985, Chapter 1.
Mays, Benjamin E, Born to Rebel, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971.
Saltzman, Jack, Ed. Bridges and Boundaries: African Americans and American Jews, George Braziller, 1992.
Atlanta World, March 17, 1978, p.l.
Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, January 23, 1991.
Black Issues in Higher Education, May 21, 1992, p. 8.
Chicago Tribune: November 15, 1994, Sec. 1, p.l Dillard Capsules, November 1, 1996, p. 1.
Dillard University National Center for Black-Jewish Relations Newsletter, p. 1.
Jet, April 11, 1974, p. 60.
Los Angeles Sentinel, March 24, 1977, p. A2
New Orleans Times-Picayune, November 13, 1990; April 15, 1992, p. Bl; April 16, 1996, Bl.
New York Amsterdam News, December 22, 1979, P.8,
New York Times, June 29, 1984, p. A12
Washington Post, April 9, 1989, p. A6.
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