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Students advocate for the addition of Marvel Cooke to Scholars Walk

Marvel Cooke was a woman of many firsts as a trailblazing Black journalist, civil rights activist and University graduate.
Image by Shannon Doyle
A plaque listing names of accomplished alumni and faculty on Scholar’s Walk on Wednesday, Feb. 23. Some students are leading a push to have Black journalist and civil rights activist Marvel Cooke added to the iconic walkway on campus.

University of Minnesota student leaders plan to advocate for the addition of Marvel Cooke, a Black journalist, civil rights activist and University graduate, to Scholars Walk.

Spanning approximately 2,200 feet near McNamara Alumni Center, Scholars Walk commemorates university faculty, alumni and students’ accomplishments. Comprising three sections, Scholars Walk has a Wall of Discovery to honor scientific and research achievements, monuments of awards won by students and faculty and a newer section that honors individual alumni on copper and glass panels.

Mustafa Ali, who is leading the initiative, said he and his team at the Minnesota Student Association (MSA) plan to create a document detailing the life of Cooke and the importance of including her on Scholars Walk.

“Under my research, I [saw] that she was the first woman journalist [at the New York Amsterdam News], first [Black] person in the Daily Compass, and she was actually the first African American baby born in Mankato,” Ali said. “She had a lot of firsts.”

After graduating from the University in 1925, Cooke began her extensive journalism career working at several Black-owned publications and newspapers, according to MNOpedia. This included work at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s publication called The Crisis, where she worked as an editorial assistant for W.E.B. DuBois.

A pioneering Black reporter, Cooke was acclaimed for her undercover reporting in which she documented the exploitation of domestic workers in the Bronx. Her journalism career ended as the only Black reporter at the Daily Compass, a white-owned New York City newspaper. Cooke later pursued progressive political activism; in 1954, she was called to testify before Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Red Scare and worked as the national legal defense secretary for Angela Davis in the ‘60s. Cooke died of leukemia in Harlem in 2000 at the age of 99.

The idea of Scholars Walk is to inspire students by honoring people from diverse backgrounds and experiences, said Chris Bremer, faculty awards coordinator. Bremer is also a liaison between the Office of the Vice President and Provost and the University Gateway Corporation, a nonprofit organization that manages Scholars Walk and the McNamara Alumni Center.

“We tried to identify people who were Black, Indigenous and people of color so that we had to have a mix of people up there who have accomplished something,” Bremer said.

According to Bremer, to be featured on the panels, there must be an available photo, quote and proof of graduation from the University.

“Her story is just the kind of thing that would be great, there are pictures of her at that age, and she’s a journalist, so there’s plenty to quote,” she said. “ She seems like an ideal candidate.”

Michael Dwyer, the CEO of the Gateway Corporation, said the corporation wants to feature a variety of people on the Wall of Discovery section of the Scholar’s Walk, which currently features mainly scientific achievements from people at the University.

“I would say we’re very interested to do spotlights on people that are more from the humanities and from other areas of life. It’s not meant to be one-dimensional at all,” Dwyer said. “That’s why this particular one of Mrs.[Cooke] is very interesting to us because it’s different than just the technical and the research perspective.”
Along with the University Gateway Corporation, Bremer is planning to have discussions this semester about adding more people to Scholars Walk for the upcoming fiscal year.

“With all of her contributions to the elevation of Black voices, journalism and political activism, Marvel should be celebrated by being memorialized with the other exceptional alumni on Scholars Walk,” said Chike Okonkwo, a senator representing the Carlson School of Management.

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