Duke Flags Lowered: Memorial Service for Reuben-Cooke Dec. 14 in Duke Chapel

The service for Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, one of Duke's first black undergraduates, is open to the public.

Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, at a news conference as part of ceremonies honoring the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the first black undergraduate students at Duke.
Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, at a news conference as part of ceremonies honoring the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the first black undergraduate students at Duke.

A memorial service for Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, one of the first five black undergraduates admitted to Duke University who then went on to a distinguished legal and academic career, will be held in Duke Chapel at 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14.

The service for Reuben-Cooke, who died Oct. 22 at age 72, is open to the public.

Reuben-Cooke entered Duke’s Trinity College of Arts and Sciences in 1963 along with Gene Kendall, Nathaniel "Nat" White, Mary Mitchell Harris and Cassandra Rush. With Reuben-Cooke’s death, only Kendall and White remain as surviving members of the original five.

Reuben-Cooke graduated from Duke in 1967, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and named a Woodrow Wilson Scholar. During her time at Duke, she was active in the civil rights movement, including protesting in Durham and Chapel Hill and signing an open letter against the memberships of key Duke administrators and faculty members at the then all-white Hope Valley Country Club.

After graduating from the University of Michigan Law School in 1973, Reuben-Cooke had a distinguished career as an attorney. She also was a professor at the University of the District of Columbia’s (UDC) David A. Clarke School of Law, after serving as UDC’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. Previously, she was professor and associate dean for academic affairs at Syracuse University’s College of Law. Earlier, as associate director of Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Public Representation, Reuben-Cooke engaged in and supervised litigation before the Federal Communications Commission and federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

Reuben-Cooke remained connected to Duke, serving two terms on the Duke University Board of Trustees. She also was a trustee of The Duke Endowment. In 2011, she earned the Duke University Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest honor granted by the Duke Alumni Association for her exemplary service. In 2013, a $1 million scholarship fund was established to honor Wilhelmina and the four other first black undergraduates at Duke.

Reuben-Cooke attained numerous other honors, including the Sojourner Truth Award from the Syracuse University chapter of The National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, the C. Eric Lincoln Distinguished Alumni Award from Duke’s Black Alumni Council, and the Black Citizens for a Fair Media Annual Award for Public Interest Advocacy.