Black educator Samuel DuBois Cook entered Morehouse College with his friend Martin Luther King, Jr., when both were 15 years of age and took part in the Morehouse early admission program during World War II. At Morehouse, Cook became student body president and founded the campus chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Cook supported the Montgomery bus boycott, writing to King in March 1956: “You have achieved that rare combination of social action and love” (Papers 3:204).
Born 21 November 1928, in Griffin, Georgia, Cook graduated from Morehouse in 1948 and went on to receive his PhD (1955) from Ohio State University. He taught at Southern University and Atlanta University before becoming the first black professor to hold a regular faculty appointment at a white southern university, when he accepted a position at Duke in 1966.
As chair of the Political Science Department at Atlanta University, Cook participated in the civil rights movement, moderating “Town Meeting” forums between activists such as King and students in the early 1960s. Cook was very grateful that King took time from his busy schedule to participate in campus dialogue, writing to him: “Truly, you are as committed to the life of mind and spirit as you are to social reconstruction and redemption.” He called King “one of the major prophets and noblest spirits of contemporary culture” (Cook, 13 October 1961).
In 1975 Cook became the president of Dillard University, serving until his retirement in 1997. During his tenure at Dillard he initiated a Japanese language studies program (the first at a historically black college) and founded the Center for Black-Jewish Relations. Cook was the first black president of the Southern Political Science Association. In 1997 the Samuel DuBois Cook Society at Duke University was founded in his honor. Cook served on the board of trustees of the King Center in Atlanta from its founding until his death in 2017.