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Obituaries

Marvel Cooke; Pioneering Black Journalist, Political Activist

December 06, 2000|ELAINE WOO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cooke expanded the paper's coverage of the arts, traveling at her own expense to cover singer Marian Anderson's historic performance at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in 1939. She had been hired to cover crime, a beat that she found distasteful, particularly because of the way it was handled at the News.

A few years after the strike, she quit over a sensational headline ("Killed Sweetheart, Slept With Body") and moved to the People's Voice, a paper founded by Adam Clayton Powell, the influential minister who later became Harlem's congressman.

In 1950, she joined the staff of the Daily Compass, where the star reporter was the muckraker I.F. Stone. At the Compass, she was "not only the only black but the only woman, so I had a double burden to bear," she recalled in a series of interviews for the Washington Press Club. She remained at the paper until it folded in 1952.

She later focused her energies on politics and the arts. During the 1950s she was New York director of the Council of Arts, Sciences and Professions and national vice chairman of the National Council for Soviet-American Friendship. Later she worked for the Angela Davis Defense Committee in New York, raising thousands of dollars at a Madison Square benefit for the 1960s radical accused of murder and kidnapping.

Cooke was married for 49 years to Cecil Cooke, a native of Jamaica and graduate of Columbia University who was the world's fastest quarter-miler when she met him in the late 1920s. Cooke died in 1978. They had no children. She is survived by a sister, Helen Cooke Wilkins Clayton, who was the first black national president of the YWCA; and a nephew, Roger Wilkins, a professor at Virginia's George Mason University and former U.S. assistant attorney general.

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