Duke University has announced it will rename one of its west campus buildings after one of the first Black women to become an undergraduate at the university.
According to WTVD, the university’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Saturday to change the name of the Sociology-Psychology Building to the Reuben-Cooke Building, after Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke. Reuben-Cooke enrolled at Duke in 1963 as a part of the “First Five,” a group of Black undergraduates who were the first to attend traditionally segregated classrooms.
Reuben-Cooke, who sadly passed in 2019, is the first Black woman to have a campus building named after her. In 2016, the university dedicated Abele Quad after Julian Abele, the black architect responsible for designing the west campus. There are also multiple facilities on the campus named after Black historian John Hope Franklin.
After graduating in 1967, Reuben-Cooke was named a Woodrow Wilson scholar, which, considering Wilson’s views on race, is a bit ironic. She was an active participant in the civil rights movement during her time at Duke, attending protests in Durham and Chapel Hill. She even signed an open letter calling out prominent members of Duke’s faculty who held memberships at the then-segregated Hope Valley Country Club. In 1973, she graduated from the University of Michigan Law School, going on to become a distinguished attorney.
University President Vincent Price released a statement announcing the name change to members of the Duke community. “From this day forward, anyone who passes through its doors will carry on her legacy of accomplishment, engagement and lasting impact,” President Price wrote.
This summer saw many universities rename campus buildings, usually named for historical racists, after notable Black pioneers as a result of the ongoing protests against police brutality and systemic racism. Princeton removed the name of the aforementioned Woodrow Wilson from its public and international affairs school, citing his legacy of racism as the reason.
While current events may have played a role in Duke renaming the building, it’s nice that Reuben-Cooke was awarded this honor without the asterisk of it previously being named for a horrific racist.