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This Day In History: March 30th
Throughout Will Mercer Cook’s lengthy career, the former diplomat and educator, has held positions such as the department chair of romance languages at Howard University and United States Ambassador to Niger, Senegal and Gambia. Cook was born on March 30, 1903, in Washington, D.C., to composer Will Marion Cook and Abbie Mitchell Cook.
The D.C. native graduated from Dunbar High School and continued his education at Amherst College. After graduating from Amherst, he studied at the University of Paris on a Simpson Fellowship and received a teacher’s diploma in 1926. Cook began his career as Professor of French and English at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College before returning to his hometown to serve as an assistant professor of romance languages.
In 1931, Cook earned a master’s degree in French language and literature from Brown University and received his doctoral degree five years later. He also joined the foreign language faculty at Atlanta University and taught French before being selected as a Rosenwald Fellow. In 1943 Cook took his teaching talents abroad and served as a professor at the University of Haiti.
After his time in Haiti, Cook returned to Howard University and held a permanent professor position. However, by the end of the 1950s his career began to shift towards international affairs. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed Cook to serve as an ambassador to the Republic of Niger, and he served in the role for three years. He was also appointed as an alternate delegate to the Eighteenth General Assembly of the United Nations in 1963.
The following year, Cook served as special envoy to Senegal and Gambia until 1966. Once Cook’s tenure in foreign affairs ended, he became Howard University’s chair for the department of romance languages, but he retired from teaching in 1970.
In addition to his public service work, Cook has authored books including Five French Negro Authors (1943), Education in Haiti (1948) and The Militant Black Writer in Africa and the United States (1969). Cook spent his later years in Washington, D.C., writing and publishing articles.
Will Mercer Cook died of pneumonia on October 4, 1987.