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When Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke stepped foot on Duke University’s campus 57 years ago in pursuit of advancing her education, she was breaking barriers for generations of students of color that would follow in her footsteps. Reuben-Cooke, one of the first Black students to enroll at the North Carolina-based university, is being posthumously honored by the institution in a special way, CNN reported.

Duke University recently announced it would name one of its campus buildings after Reuben-Cooke. It marks the first time in the school’s 182-year history that one of Duke’s academic buildings will be named after a Black woman. The building, which houses sociology and psychology programs on Duke’s West Campus, will now be called the Reuben-Cooke Building. Reuben-Cooke, a native of South Carolina, was a fierce advocate for social justice. During her undergraduate studies at Duke, she was a student activist who was actively involved in the civil rights movement. After graduating from the university in 1967 she went on to have a promising career in the realm of law. She earned a law degree from the University of Michigan and served as an attorney at the Washington, D.C.-based Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering fim. Later in her career, she took on the role of associate director at Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Public Representation.

Duke President Vincent E. Price says naming the building after Reuben-Cooke is just one part of a major effort to honor the legacies of unsung individuals whose accomplishments are forever embedded in the fabric of the school’s history. “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,” Price said in a statement, according to the news outlet. “From this day forward, anyone who passes through its doors will carry on her legacy of accomplishment, engagement and lasting impact.”

News about Duke University’s decision to rename the campus building after Reuben-Cooke comes two years after Brown University renamed a building to honor Ethel Tremaine Robinson and Inman Edward Page; two individuals who broke racial barriers at the university by becoming some of the first African Americans to graduate from the institution.


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