For the first time in its campus history, Duke University will name one of its iconic buildings after a Black woman.
Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke — one of the “First Five” undergraduate Black students to enroll at the university in 1963 — will have her name on the university’s sociology-psychology building, which will now be known as the Reuben-Cooke Building, according to CNN.
Duke President Vincent E. Price reveals the building itself predates the campus’ integration by about 30 years, but will now bear her name and the significance behind it as one of the university’s pioneers.
“This historic decision reflects Professor Reuben-Cooke’s leadership as one of the first five Black undergraduates at Duke, her extraordinary career as an attorney, law professor, and university administrator, and her long service as a trustee of both Duke University and The Duke Endowment,” Price said.
During her earlier years, Reuben-Cooke was active in the civil rights movement while she was also attending Duke. After graduating from Duke in 1967, she earned a law degree from the University of Michigan in 1973. She later supervised litigation for the Federal Communications Commission and federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
She then went on to become a law professor and administrator at Syracuse University and the University of the District of Colombia but stayed close to her roots at Duke serving on its Board of Trustees and earning the university’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2011, USA Today reports.
Years later, she’s finally getting her recognition from the university that shaped her into the historic figure she’s grown to be.
“When the building that now bears Professor Reuben-Cooke’s name first opened, she would not have been allowed to enter it as a student,” President Price shared in an email. “From this day forward, anyone who passes through its doors will carry on her legacy of accomplishment, engagement and lasting impact.”
Although Professor Reuben-Cooke, unfortunately, passed away on Oct. 22, 2019 at age 72, her legacy will live forever.