I traveled to Atlanta today to participate in this service. The following is a copy of my remarks.
It seems like there has always been an interesting relationship between New Orleans and Atlanta. For most it is most visible in the Saints-Falcons rivalry. The most important is seen in Ambassador Andrew Young, native New Orleanian who served as our second Black mayor.
But the relationship might be closest with Dillard University. Of Dillard’s seven presidents, three were from the metro Atlanta area, Albert W. Dent, myself, and Samuel DuBois Cook. Of the seven, three were graduates of Morehouse College- Albert W. Dent, Michael Lomax, and of course Samuel DuBois Cook. Really the number is three and a half because whenever I meet people and tell them I am from Atlanta, the next logical question is “Did you attend Morehouse?” So maybe one day I’ll receive an honorary degree so I can at least say I do have a degree from Morehouse.
I am pleased as the 7th president of Dillard University to share a few remarks at this service of celebration for Dr. Cook. I am also here representing the 5th president of Dillard and current UNCF president Dr. Michael Lomax, who sent a letter that I will share with the family. In his letter he further describes this Morehouse-Dillard relationship as he writes:
“It was my good fortune to have followed in Dr. Cook’s footsteps. I followed him to Morehouse, where he was a legend from his time as a student a generation before — student body president at only 17, football player, and one of the organizers of the campus’s first chapter of the NAACP. I followed him to Dillard, which he had transformed into one of the nation’s preeminent historically black colleges, and where he was, when I was there, a still-vibrant presence and an inspiration to what an institution could be. And I followed him to UNCF, where as a member institution president, as chair of the member institutions when Ambassador Walter Annenberg announced his $50 million challenge grant to kick off UNCF’s 4th Capital Campaign…”
Dr. Lomax concludes his letter saying, “as a student, as a professor, and as his successor at Dillard, I learned from him and aspired to follow his example — and I still do today.”
Unfortunately I don’t have the same experiences with Dr. Cook. We had opportunities to engage personally at several meetings of the United Methodist Church black college fund meeting as often retired presidents came to participate and provide institutional memory. So as an adult, I have known Dr. Cook personally for almost 13 years.
I particularly remember having lunch with the Cooks in Nashville during one of those meetings a few weeks before my interview as a finalist to be president of Dillard. I debated in my mind to ask them about their experience there, but decided to just enjoy the moment. In the course of the conversation, their experiences came out, providing personal insights.
Quite honestly, I was already a student of Dr. Cook. As I prepared for my interviews I read over 70 years worth of Times-Picayune articles about Dillard University, and there was much written about the 22 year tenure of Dr. Cook. As I describe Dillard’s history, he is one of our two foundation era presidents. Dent built Dillard’s academic infrastructure, but Cook built our intellectual infrastructure. This was clear with his first interview with the Times-Picayune which appeared in the January 12, 1975 edition with the headline “Dr. Cook of Dillard U. — Progressive at Helm.”
When asked about the role of Black colleges, Cook said “First of all, it plays the same role as any other university: to pursue academic excellence.”
“In addition black universities have several unique missions: to strengthen and deepen the intellectual tradition among black people, who still suffer from the legacy of slavery.” In article after article, whether it was an interview or remarks from a speech, Cook discussed the importance of academic excellence.
He was unapologetic in his assistance that black colleges fully embrace this excellence. On several occasions he shared, as he did in 1977 at the Omega Psi Phi Conclave, that unless the black colleges can provide academic excellence they “do not have the right to survive or ask for support… (they) must be more than just black. They must be good.”
I am proud to inherit the legacy of Samuel DuBois Cook as president of Dillard University, and continue to share his passion to frankly and honestly address pressing issues of the day. And maybe that is due to a final relationship I share with Dr. Cook. We were both influenced by Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays. Cook studied directly under Mays as his president. For me, I studied Mays through his writings and speeches, first being introduced to him in person in 1981 when I entered Mays High School in the 9th grade. Mays, in my mind the greatest college president ever, profoundly impacted Cook, as evidenced by many Dillard alumni who have fondly referred to him as their president, including our current board chair Attorney Michael Jones.
No doubt, Cook will in his own right, continue to influence a new generation of college presidents who will study not only his work at Dillard, but his thoughtful analysis of race and education in this nation. His legacy is profound, and his influence will be long lasting.