Kenneth V. and Sheila M. Cockrel Papers

Accession Number: 
Use restriction: 
Researchers must sign a Restricted Use Form for this collection and cannot cite personal names. No copies of restricted files in Box 2, 3, or 6 can be made. Red Squad files in boxes 2 and 3 are restricted.
26 linear feet (20 SB, 1 MB, 4 OS flat)

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 & 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 & 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 & 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.

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