March 30, 1903
October 4, 1987
The son of composer Will Marion Cook and singer Abbie Mitchell, educator and ambassador Mercer Cook was born in Washington, D.C., and given the full name of Will Mercer Cook. He received his B.A. from Amherst College in 1925, a diploma from the University of Paris in 1926, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Brown University in 1931 and 1936. He served as assistant professor at Howard University from 1927 until 1936; he then joined the faculty at Atlanta University as a professor of French, where he taught for seven years. From 1943 to 1945 Cook was supervisor of English at the University of Haiti in Port-au-Prince, after which he returned to Howard University, where he taught until 1960. During these years he wrote and edited books in English and French, most prominently Le Noir (1934), Portraits americains (1939), and Five French Negro Authors (1943). He also translated Léopold Senghor's African Socialism (1959), Mamadou Dia's The African Nations and World Solidarity (1961), and Cheikh A. Diop's The African Origins of Civilization (1974).
In 1961 President John F. Kennedy appointed Cook ambassador to the Republic of Niger, a position he held for three years. From 1964 to 1966 he was the envoy to Senegal and Gambia. Cook also occupied leadership positions in the American Society for African Culture and the Congress of Cultural Freedom. In 1963 he represented the United States as alternate delegate to the United Nations General Assembly.
Cook returned to Howard University in 1966 to head its department of romance languages. In 1969 he coauthored with Stephen Henderson The Militant Black Writer in Africa and the United States. The following year he retired from active teaching. Cook died of pneumonia in Washington, D.C.
Low, Augustus W., and Virgil A. Cliff, eds. Encyclopedia of Black America. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981.
Rush, Theresa Gunnels. Black American Writers Past and Present: A Biographical and Bibliographical Dictionary. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1975.
Shockley, Ann Allen. Living Black American Authors: A Biographical Directory. New York: R. R. Bowker, 1973.
steven j. leslie (1996)