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Kenneth V. and Sheila M. Cockrel Papers

 Collection
Identifier: UP001379

Scope and Content

The Kenneth V. and Sheila M. Cockrel Collection consists of correspondence, reports, government surveillance files, minutes, newspaper clippings and other media coverage, speeches, articles and radio commentaries, legal case records and other material documenting the Cockrels' involvement in progressive social and political causes in Detroit in the 1960's and 1970's as well as Mr. Cockrel's activities as a Detroit City Councilman.

Important subjects in the collection: Ad-Hoc Action Group (Detroit, Mich.) African American automobile industry workers Black power--Michigan--Detroit Black Workers Congress Hayward Brown Community development, Urban--Michigan--Detroit Community organization--Michigan--Detroit Control, Conflict and Change (Detroit, Mich.) Detroit Alliance for a Rational Economy Detroit General Hospital Detroit (Mich.). City Council Detroit (Mich.). Police Dept. Detroit (Mich.). Police Dept. S.T.R.E.S.S. Unit Detroit (Mich.). Recorder's Court Elections--Michigan-Detroit Flint (Mich.). Police Department From the Ground Up (Detroit, Mich.) Labor Defense Coalition (Detroit, Mich.) League of Revolutionary Black Workers (Detroit, Mich.) Motor City Labor League (Detroit, Mich.) New Bethel Baptist Church (Detroit, Mich.) incident Poletown (Detroit, Mich.) Police brutality--Michigan--Detroit Racism--Michigan--Detroit Radicalism--Michigan--Detroit Justin Ravitz Tax remission--Michigan--Detroit Wayne County (Mich.). Jail

Important correspondents in the collection: Ronald Alpern Julian Bond Kathryn Bryant John Conyers, Jr. Pie rre Dommergues Jane Fonda Dan Georgakas Gregory Hicks James Ingram Stephen Lighthill Daniel Luria Kevin Murphy Sheldon Otis Justin Ravitz Jordan Rossen Jack Russell Derek Shearer Ingrid White

Series Description: Series I, Personal Files, 1959-1999 Correspondence, material related to speaking engagements, media coverage, government surveillance files, interviews with and radio commentaries, newspaper columns and speeches by Ken Cockrel. The Detroit City Council series contains speaking engagement and media coverage files for the period 1977-1981.

Series II, Organizational Files, 1968-1986 Correspondence, reports, minutes, media coverage, publications, publicity, legal documents, conference and election campaign material relating to the activities of organizations co-founded by the Cockrels. Particularly well documented are the Labor Defense Coalition's campaigns to abolish STRESS and to elect Justin Ravitz to Detroit Recorder's Court. A few files on Ravitz's tenure as judge are also included in this series.

Series III, Detroit Alliance for a Rational Economy, 1978-1982 Correspondence with allied organizations, minutes, convention and conference materials, media coverage and research reports produced by DARE officers, its task forces and the Detroit Institute for Urban Policy Research. There is a good deal of overlap in the DARE and Council files since, although Cockrel maintained a clear distinction between his role in the organization and his role at the City Council, many DARE principals also staffed his Council office.

Series IV, Detroit City Council, 1977-1983 Correspondence and staff memoranda, research reports on city problems, especially tax and economic development issues, media coverage and publicity documenting Cockrel's Detroit City Council campaign and tenure.

Series V, Legal Cases, 1972-1988 Court documents, attorneys' notes and media coverage related primarily to the New Bethel, Hayward Brown and Madeline Fletcher cases.

Series VI, Subject Files, 1968-1980 Literature and media coverage about (primarily) Detroit individuals and organizations involved in social protest in the 1960's and 1970's.

Series VII, Audiovisual and Oversize Materials

Dates

  • 1959 - 1999

Creator

Language of Materials

Material entirely in English.

Access

Collection is open for research.

Use

RESEARCHERS USING THIS COLLECTION MUST SIGN A RESTRICTED USE FORM. NO NAMES APPEARING IN DESIGNATED FILES, OTHER THAN HTOSE OF KENNETH AND SHEILA COCKREL, MAY BE CITED WITHOUT THE WRITTEN CONSENT OF THE INDIVIDUAL NAMED AND NO UNPUBLISHED MATERIAL IN RESTRICTED FILES MAY BE COPIED.

Refer to the Walter P. Reuther Library Rules for Use of Archival Materials. Refer to the Walter P. Reuther Library Rules for Use of Archival Materials. Restrictions: Researchers may encounter records of a sensitive nature – personnel files, case records and those involving investigations, legal and other private matters. Privacy laws and restrictions imposed by the Library prohibit the use of names and other personal information which might identify an individual, except with written permission from the Director and/or the donor.

History

Kenneth Vern Cockrel was born November 5, 1938 in Royal Oak Township, a poor, black community just across Detroit's northern border. His parents, Sye and Cynthia Cockrel, died when he was 12 years old and he was raised by relatives in Detroit. After dropping out of school in 1955, he joined the Air Force and was trained as a weapons technician, stationed in Germany. Returning to the United States, he enrolled in a special program for adults without diplomas at Wayne State University in Detroit, earning a B.A. in political science in 1964. Realizing that law would be at the center of the struggle for social and economic justice, he entered Wayne's Law School and earned his J.D. in 1967. While at Wayne State, Cockrel met and married Carol White and fathered a son, Ken Cockrel, Jr.

As the sixties heated up, so did Ken Cockrel's politics, and much of that activism was played out on Wayne's campus, where he became something of a celebrity. While working at the Detroit News to pay his way through school, he met Mike Hamlin and John Watson, who were organizing black auto workers, and with others, they formed the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in 1969 as an umbrella organization uniting local Revolutionary Union Movements, like DRUM, and their support groups. In 1971, after political and personal differences forced his resignation from the League and the Black Workers Congress, Cockrel and some Motor City Labor League defectors formed the multi-racial Labor Defense Coalition, which was instrumental in forcing the dismantling of STRESS, the undercover police unit reviled in Detroit's black community.

At the same time, in the late 1960's, Cockrel helped found Philo, Maki, Ravitz, Pitts, Moore, Cockrel and Robb, a law firm which, under various names, provided legal representation for individuals and organizations involved in the struggle against political and economic repression. Over the next ten years, he and his colleagues earned reputations as crusaders for working and poor people by winning a number of high-profile lawsuits that put the establishment on trial—the judiciary and jury selection process in New Bethel, the corporation and assembly line in James Johnson, the police in Hayward Brown and Madeline Fletcher.

By 1977, when he was elected to a seat on the Detroit City Council as an "independent socialist," Ken Cockrel had become the most well-known and influential radical in the city, respected, even by his adversaries, for his intellect, rapid-fire eloquence and passionate commitment to fighting inequity and injustice. But disillusioned at his inability to use his Council position to improve conditions in the city, he decided not to run for re-election in 1981. He returned to the practice of law, ultimately rejoining his friend and former colleague, Justin Ravitz, at Sommers, Schwartz, Silver and Schwartz in 1988, and was considering a run for mayor when he died of a heart attack on April 25, 1989.

Sheila Ann Murphy Cockrel was born on November 3, 1947 and grew up in Detroit's Corktown, the daughter of the founders of the Detroit Catholic Worker movement, Louis and Justine L'Esperance Murphy. She attended Catholic schools in Detroit and Wayne State's Monteith College. From 1966-1968 she worked as staff secretary for the West Central Organization, a grassroots community group in the Saul Alinsky mode, where she first met Ken Cockrel. In the late sixties and early seventies, as a founder of the Ad-Hoc Action Group, the Motor City Labor League and the Labor Defense Coalition, she honed her organizing skills in demonstrations and rallies against police brutality, absentee landlords and Wayne County Jail conditions and in petition campaigns like the one to abolish STRESS. At the same time she helped initiate and maintain a series of city-wide mass educational programs known first as Control, Conflict and Change Bookclub and then as From the Ground Up Bookclub. Perhaps the best tests of Murphy's organizing and administrative skills came in 1972 when she successfully managed Justin Ravitz's campaign for Detroit Recorder's Court judge and again in 1977 with her stewardship of the Cockrel campaign and his Council staff.

In the wake of the Cockrel victory, those who had worked on his election campaign regrouped as the Detroit Alliance for a Rational Economy (DARE), charged with researching issues Cockrel would face as a councilman, like tax abatement and public health, and creating an independent, mass political force that called for strong community control of basic urban institutions. Longtime political allies, Sheila Murphy and Kenneth Cockrel married in 1978; their daughter, Katherine, was born three years before her father died. In 1993 Sheila Cockrel ran successfully for the Detroit City Council and is currently serving her third term.

Extent

26 Linear Feet (20 SB, 1 MB, 4 OS)

Abstract

Kenneth Vern Cockrel was born November 5, 1938 and raised in Detroit. He earned a B.A. in political science and his J.D from Wayne State University. Ken Cockrel also became active in politics while at Wayne. While working at the Detroit News to pay his way through school, he met Mike Hamlin and John Watson, and together they formed the League of Revolutionary Black Workers as an umbrella organization uniting local Revolutionary Union Movements, such as the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM), and related support groups. In 1971, Cockrel and Motor City Labor League defectors formed the Labor Defense Coalition, which was instrumental in forcing the dismantling of STRESS, a notorious Detroit Police unit. At the same time, Cockrel helped found the law firm, Philo, Maki, Ravitz, Pitts, Moore, Cockrel and Robb. Over the next ten years, he and his colleagues earned reputations as crusaders for working and poor people by winning a number of high-profile lawsuits —cases such as New Bethel, James Johnson, Hayward Brown and Madeline Fletcher. In 1977, Cockrel was elected to a seat on the Detroit City Council as an "independent socialist". Those who had worked on his election campaign regrouped as the Detroit Alliance for a Rational Economy (DARE), and charged themselves with researching various issues Cockrel would face as a councilman such as tax abatement, public health, and attempts to create an independent, mass political force to work for strong community control of basic urban institutions. Disillusioned at his inability to use his Council position to improve conditions in the city, however, he decided not to run for re-election in 1981. He returned to the practice of law, ultimately rejoining his friend and former colleague, Justin Ravitz, at Sommers, Schwartz, Silver and Schwartz in 1988.

Sheila Ann Murphy Cockrel is the daughter of the founders of the Detroit Catholic Worker movement, Louis and Justine L'Esperance Murphy. From 1966-1968 she worked as staff secretary for the West Central Organization. In the late sixties and early seventies, as a founder of the Ad-Hoc Action Group, the Motor City Labor League and the Labor Defense Coalition, Cockrel honed her organizing skills in demonstrations and rallies against police brutality, absentee landlords and jail conditions, as well as petition campaigns such as the one to abolish STRESS. At the same time, she helped initiate and maintain a series of city-wide mass educational programs known first as the Control, Conflict and Change Book club, and then, as the From the Ground Up Bookclub. Perhaps the best tests of Murphy's organizing and administrative skills came in 1972 when she successfully managed Justin Ravitz's campaign for Detroit Recorder's Court judge, and again, in 1977 with her stewardship of the Kenneth Cockrel campaign and his Council staff. Longtime political allies, Sheila Murphy and Kenneth Cockrel married in 1978. In 1993 Sheila Cockrel ran successfully for the Detroit City Council and served on that body until 2009.

Arrangement

Arranged in 7 series – Series 1 (Boxes 1-3), Series 2 (Boxes 3-7), Series 3 (Boxes 7-11), Series 4 (Boxes 11-15), Series 5 (Boxes 15-17), Series 6 (Box 18), and and Series 7 (Boxes 19-25 and 3 film reels). Folders are arranged alphabetically.

Acquisition

The papers of Kenneth V. and Sheila M. Cockrel were place d in the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs between 1988 and 2004 by Ms. Cockrel and DARE members Ingrid White, Ron Alpern and others.

Related Materials

Detroit Revolutionary Movements; Dan Georgakas; Mel Ravitz

Transfers

Photographs, posters and campaign memorabilia as well as a large number of audio tapes of DARE executive board meetings, Ken Cockrel broadcast appearances and speaking engagements and various conferences and organizer training sessions, as well as some videotapes and three films have been placed in the Archives Audiovisual Collection.

Processing History

Processed and finding aid written by Walter P. Reuther Library in October 2004.
Title
Guide to the Kenneth V. and Sheila M. Cockrel Papers
Status
Completed
Author
Processed by Walter P. Reuther Library.
Date
2004-10
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
English

Repository Details

Part of the Walter P. Reuther Library Repository

Contact:
5401 Cass Avenue
Detroit MI 48202 USA