Kenny Cockrel

Kenny Cockrel (May 1989)
Duration: 00:27:49

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Themes: Leadership | Africa and African-Americans | Urban Challenges |

Guests: Dennis Archer, Justin Ravitz, Mike Hamlin, Jack Russell, Ken Cockrell
Host : Trudy Gallant
Producer : Gerald Smith, James Jackson

Summary: Ken Cockrel was an often-controversial, often-inspirational figure in Detroit politics, from his emergence as a radical black activist and lawyer in the 1960s, through a term on the Detroit City Council, to speculation that he would run for mayor. This program, aired shortly after Cockrel's sudden death from a heart attack in 1989, explores Cockrel's contribution to the city.

The program begins with taped comments from several community leaders who knew Cockrel, including City Council President Erma Henderson, but the main body of the program involves a panel discussion, led by host Trudy Gallant, between four men who knew Cockrel well. The panel includes Dennis Archer, then a state supreme court justice, but who would be elected mayor four years later; Justin Ravitz, a longtime friend and law partner of Cockrel; Jack Russell, an economist and community activist; and Mike Hamlin, who along with Cockrel had organized the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in the 1960s.

The panelists share stories about Cockrel's early activism and his commitment to political and economic justice, and his role as the first Marxist elected to the City Council. Russell describes how Cockrel's early position opposing the liberal use of tax abatements to promote development in the city started as "a minority of one" but eventually became a near consensus position on the council.

And Ravitz, who shared Cockrel's Marxist views, talks about how he and Cockrel were able to overcome the deep suspicion of many Americans toward anything with the Marxist label. "We were not simply people who were talking about idology," Ravitz says. "We people who were trying to practice the things that we preached."

The discussion helps illuminate Cockrel's life as a man and as a political leader. Archer, interestingly, discusses Cockrel's plans to run for mayor and says he believes that Cockrel would have been the one to succeed longtime Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, the city's first black mayor. As it turned out, Archer would be the one to succeed Young.

But the panel also takes up the question of the particular stresses that American society places on black men, especially those who take on leadership roles, which, in turn lead to reduced life expectancy for black males. Cockrel was just 50 when he died.

"We need more people . . . to pick up the weight," Archer says. "Kenny gave back and tried to give back all that he could until he gave his life."

Related Production Materials held at MSU Libraries, Special Collections:
Box 8, File 25, Ken Cockrel – February 9, 1994 – Show # 2520