February is Black History Month. It’s a special time to recognize the accomplishments and contributions of black Americans. Civil rights trailblazer, Dr. Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke was one of the five (5) African American students first admitted to Duke University during the Fall Semester of 1963. She was the daughter of Morris College President Odell Reuben. Her mother was a Morris College professor. Dr. Cooke was a civil rights leader and activist, an accomplished attorney, revered academic and my favorite professor and chosen faculty adviser at Syracuse University College of Law where she also served as Associate Dean. Later, she was a law professor and President of Academic Affairs at the University of the District of Columbia. She professionally served as the Associate Director of the Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Public Representation litigating before the Federal Communications Commission, various federal courts and the United States Supreme Court.
Dr. Cooke was kind. Accomplished. Unassuming. Modestly brilliant. Funny. Unfailingly fair. She had a peaceful, reassuring, joyful demeanor and forgiving smile. The smile I like to think we shared when we both showed up for class more than once in red shirts and deep purple sweaters on the same day and I would quietly proclaim us “twins.” She was the kindest, brightest and best of women. This month we celebrate her person, her significant civil rights contributions, and considerable personal and professional accomplishments. I can attest that she made the lives of those who knew her … even in small measure … better. I'll never forget her.
I hope that you won’t, either.