From Fri Dec 8 06:13:05 2000
Date: Thu, 7 Dec 2000 13:46:14 -0500
From: Gerald Horne <gchorne@EMAIL.UNC.EDU>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Marvel Cooke Dies at 99
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Marvel Cooke Dies at 99

By Richard Pearson, Washington Post, 2 December 2000, page B07

Marvel Cooke, 99, a former New York journalist who also was a noted labor and political and civil rights activist, died of leukemia Nov. 29 in a hospital in New York. She lived in New York.

Over the years, Mrs. Cooke had worked as a journalist for the NAACP's Crisis magazine, the Amsterdam News and the Compass. She was an early member of the Newspaper Guild and had been a member of the Communist Party since the 1930s.

In the 1970s, she served as treasurer of the Angela Davis Defense Fund, which raised money for the radical activist-professor who was charged with murder and kidnapping and placed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. She was acquitted of all charges.

Mrs. Cooke began her adult life at the tail end of the Harlem Renaissance. Along the way, she wrote about and socialized and worked with many of the leading political and artistic figures of her age.

In her first job in New York, at the Crisis in the 1920s, she worked for the legendary civil rights figure W.E.B. Du Bois. She wrote and became friends and associates with such figures as the poets Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen, singer-actor Paul Robeson, artist Elizabeth Catlett and novelist Richard Wright. At one time, she was engaged to marry Roy Wilkins; he went on to become executive secretary of the NAACP.

Mrs. Cooke told one interviewer in 1989 that one reason she and Wilkins fell out was that he was politically more conservative than she. Mrs. Cooke, while walking a Newspaper Guild picket line in the 1930s, joined the Communist Party. She told the interviewer that the professed goals of American Communists, including larger government welfare programs and racial equality, were her goals.

Many American Communists were to abandon the party in the 1930s, with the trumped-up show trials in Stalin's Soviet Union, in the 1940s after the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, and in the 1950s after the Hungarian uprisings. But Mrs. Cooke, as she told a Washington Post reporter in 1993, remained a member of the party—though never held party office.

In the 1950s, she testified in the early days of the Army-McCarthy hearings chaired by Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.). The hearings were a much-criticized attempt by McCarthy to find alleged communist influence in the Army. Mrs. Cooke was asked to identify a former Army civilian clerk as having worked with her on the People's Voice, a black New York publication, in the 1940s.

Mrs. Cooke refused to cooperate with the committee, and later laughingly told an interviewer that the lowly clerk, with whom she did work, was best known by other People's Voice employees for her strident anti-communism.

Mrs. Cooke was born in Mankato, Minn., and grew up in Minneapolis. Her father was an Ohio State University law school graduate who was forced to make his living as a Pullman sleeping-car porter, and her mother was a former teacher. She later described her father as a Eugene Debs socialist and said that her mother was politically supportive of her later in life. Mrs. Cooke graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1925.

After college, she went to Harlem and joined the Crisis in 1927 as an assistant to Du Bois, who had once dated her mother. She went on to take ever-increasing editorial responsibility. She later joined the Amsterdam News, where she wrote features, and later worked at the People's Voice and then the Compass, which she left in 1952.

During the 1920s and 1930s, she wrote exposes on such subjects as segregation in New York and went undercover to tell the demeaning and unfair life of the city's black domestic workers. During this period, she walked picket lines, not only for the Guild but also for civil rights demonstrations that were often led by Adam Clayton Powell, a Harlem pastor who later became a Democratic congressman.

In the 1950s, she became New York director of the Council of Arts, Sciences and Professions and later became national vice chairman of the National Council for Soviet-American Friendship. She also wrote for the New World Review until it folded in the 1980s.

She campaigned for Progressive Party presidential candidate Henry Wallace in 1948 and traveled behind the Iron Curtain to cultural gatherings and as a courier for associates who were unable to secure their passports.

Roger Wilkins, the George Mason University professor who is a former journalist and U.S. assistant attorney general, told a Post reporter in 1993 that Mrs. Cooke was obviously well remembered by some Russians. He recalled that he was receiving a decidedly frosty treatment from a Russian cultural official when the official learned he was a nephew of Marvel Cooke. Wilkins recalled, He said, ‘You're Marvel Cooke's nephew?’ Wilkins said he perked right up. He thought, ‘This guy is somebody, or at least related to somebody.’

Wilkins's mother, Helen Cooke, a sister of Marvel Cooke, had married Earl Wilkins, Roy's younger brother.

Mrs. Cooke's husband, Cecil Cooke, an athlete and teacher whom she married in 1929, died in 1978, four years after retiring from the New York City recreation department.

Survivors include a sister, Helen Cooke Wilkins Claytor, a former national president of the YWCA, who lives in Grand Rapids, Mich.