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In Memory of Kenneth V. Cockrel  E-mail
Saturday, 11 February 2006 00:35
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In Memory of Kenneth V. Cockrel
(November 5, 1938-April 25, 1989)

By John Sinclair

The sudden and unanticipated death of Kenny Cockrel by a massive heart attack April 25th brought Detroit unprecedented heartache and grief.

Cut down from within at perhaps the height of his considerable powers as a champion of the people and spokesman for human and economic rights, Ken Cockrel's death left us for the first time in 25 years without the hope that he would some day lead our city into the 21st century through the force of his penetrating social analysis and fearless personal integrity.

The memorial service held for Ken at Rackham Auditorium in the Cultural Center on Saturday, April 29th, brought together hundreds of Ken's friends and followers to comfort one anothcr and listen to a moving procession of eulogies, including tributes from Mayor Young, Governor Blanchard, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Dennis Archer, Rev. Nicholas Hood and Bishop Thomas Gumbleton as well as Kenny's brothcr Sye, son Ken Jr., co-workers Mike Hamlin and Deborah Gaskin, and ace comrade-in-arms Justic Ravitz.

Compositions by Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington were offered by a group of Kenny's musical friends, including Donald Walden, Phil Lasley, Kenny Cox, Jeribu Shahid and Roy Brooks. A particularly touching tribute was a brief videotape edited from hours of newsreel footage which showed Ken speaking at and on various stages of his public life, setting it out for the people in the way only Kenny Cockrel could.

On the Friday afternoon before the service I received a phone call from playwright Ron Milner, in Los Angeles on business. He'd composed a tribute to our late comrade that he wanted me to read for him at Rackham. I took it down over the phone, and Shahida Mausi arranged for it to be read the next morning.

Friday night I read Ron's piece between the acts at a poetry session at the Union Street Gallery, and Melba Boyd suddenly appeared to deliver a poem she'd composed for Ken, which she asked me to read for her at the memorial service.

Thus I came to have the honor and privilege of representing Detroit's literary community in delivering our collective eulogy to our fallen comrade, Kenneth Vern Cockrel. The pieces by Ron Milner and Melba Boyd are printed here along with the Obituary which first appeared in the program distributed at the memorial service at Rackham Auditorium.

We offer them to you as an infintesimally small token of our love and respect for this powerful brother who for so long offered us a huge measure of hope for the future. --Detroit, Fall 1989


Detroit lost some of its luster Tuesday, April 25, 1989. Former City Councilman Kenneth V. Cockrel, one of our brightest and most vibrant stars, died late that evening at the age of 50.

Known for his brilliant intellect, sharp wit and quick tongue, Ken touched the lives of Detroiters in every quarter of this city.

After his honorable discharge from the Air Force in 1959, he attended Wayne State University, earning his BA in 1964 and his JD in 1967.

After his graduation from law school, Ken continuously and consistently gained and focused the public spotlight on critical social issues through his leadership in such left and progressive movements as the Black Workers Congress, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, and the anti-STRESS campaign. He provided skillful and colorful representation of such politically significant clients as James Johnson, Hayward Brown and Madeline Fletcher.

In 1977, he was elected to the Detrolt City Council where his powerful contributions led to a redefinition of problems and issues, the impact of which has not yet been fully measured.

In 1982, he returned to private practice, once again bringing his love and energy to this city and his fellow citizens through his practice of law. Since 1988, he has been a partner in the law firm of Sommers, Schwartz, Silver and Schwartz, P.C.

Recently he had been mentioned as an exciting prospect for Mayor of Detroit. But, more than any of his great achievements, he will be remembered by family, friends, acquaintances and adversaries alike, as a man of integrity who fought for what he believed in and inspired others to do the same.

Ken is survived by his wife, Sheila Murphy-Cockrel; his son Kenneth Vern Jr.; his daughter Katherine Victoria; his former wife, Carol L. Cockrel; his uncle and aunt, Golden and Beatrice Kennedy, who raised him; brothers, Sye and Jesse; and sisters, Novella and Dr. Shirley Cockrel Akpulonu.


The family of the late Kenneth V. Cockrel acknowledges with sincere appreciation the many comforting messages, floral tributes and other expressions of kindness evidenced at this time in thought and deed.

Contributions may be made in memory of Kenneth V. Cockrel to the Wayne State University Fund, 5475 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI 48202. Donations should be specified to benefit WDET, Wayne State University's Minority Law Scholarship Fund, or the WSU Journalism Institute for Minorities.

(c) 1989, 2006 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.