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*On this date in 1903, Marvel Cooke was born. She was an African American journalist, writer, and civil rights activist.
From Mankato, Minnesota, Marvel Jackson Cooke was the daughter of Amy Wood Jackson and Madison Jackson. Her family moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1907 and in 1925, Jackson graduated from the University of Minnesota at the age of 22. When she got out of college, she moved to Harlem in New York City and was hired as editorial assistant at the Crisis, the NAACP publication. Jackson then went to the Amsterdam News where she was secretary to the women's editor and a general assignment reporter.
While at the Amsterdam News, Jackson helped organize the first Newspaper Guild unit at a Black-owned newspaper while being the first woman reporter in the Amsterdam News’ 40-year history. She broke her engagement to Roy Wilkins and soon Married Cecil Cooke, internationally famous athlete. The Cookes moved to Greensboro, North Carolina where Marvel taught history, English and Latin in the high school department of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College. Moving back to New York City she returned to the Amsterdam News. In 1935, she was part of the successful eleven-week Guild strike against the newspaper. She then became assistant managing editor at the People's Voice, a Harlem-based weekly owned by Adam Clayton Powell.
"I was part of the Bronx Slave Market long enough to experience all the viciousness and indignity of a system which forces women to the streets in search of work," she once said. Her five-part series for the Daily Compass on the abuse suffered by black domestic workers was a result of this research. Cooke also worked as a reporter and feature writer at the Compass, a short-lived white-owned New York City daily newspaper where she was the first black woman to work at a mainstream white-owned newspaper and the only Black and the only woman reporter. Cooke loved immersing herself in the arts. She read, listened to music, studied art, and went to plays. She felt that Black people in the arts contributed things that were lacking in the regular arts, because the stories and art and music of Black people reflected their life experience.
In the early fifties, Cooke devoted herself to political activism. In 1953, she was New York director of the Council of Arts, Sciences and Professions and appeared before a hearing instigated by Sen. Joseph McCarthy New York and Washington, D.C., defending un-American accusations. Cooke was national legal defense secretary of the Angela Davis Defense Committee in the late sixties and early seventies. Her husband died in 1978. In her later years, she was national vice chairman of the American-Soviet Friendship Committee. Marvel Cooke died in December 2000 in Harlem, N.Y.
Minnesota Historical Society
345 W. Kellogg Blvd.
Saint Paul, MN 55102-1906