Honoring Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke’s Legacy

The Duke Endowment Award pays tribute to pioneer who contributed to both Duke and The Duke Endowment

Gene Kendall, Wilhelmina Reuben Cooke and Nathaniel White at the celebration of the "First Five"

The Duke Endowment Award

$100 million gift is largest in university history

Two years later, The Duke Endowment is honoring her life and legacy: part of the $100 million award to Duke has been designated to renovate, modernize and reconfigure the Reuben-Cooke Building for collaborative and interdisciplinary learning.

The work will include replacing the roof and antiquated mechanical, electrical, plumbing and telecommunications systems. Modern classrooms for group learning will be added along with more airy common spaces. The lobby will feature a permanent display sharing Reuben-Cooke’s story.

The Duke Endowment gift in her name is particularly fitting because Reuben-Cooke served as trustee of both Duke University and The Duke Endowment. She was a beloved friend and trusted adviser to many in both institutions.

In 2013, during ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the first five Black undergraduates, Reuben-Cooke said she felt an obligation to help open Duke’s doors and that her place in the growing civil rights movement was to fight for these rights on campus. But it wasn’t easy, she said. There were many moments of loneliness, balanced out with significant opportunities for leadership.

“She will never ever be forgotten,” said Kendall at the ceremony in 2019 dedicating the academic building as the Reuben-Cooke Building. “The story, the decision, the change in history that Duke made in 1963 can never, ever be erased.”

Read stories about Duke pioneer Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke and her legacy at the university and beyond.