BLOG

Celestine Cook: A Portrait of Civic and Economic Engagement

by Jasmaine Talley, Curator of Manuscripts & Rare Books



Portrait of Celestine Cook by Larry Songy, undated.
Portrait of Celestine Cook by Larry Songy, undated.

The Amistad Research Center is proud to announce that the Celestine Cook Papers are now open and available for research. They offer a fascinating look at mid-twentieth century life in both Galveston, Texas and Cook’s adopted home of New Orleans, Louisiana.


Celestine Strode Cook, née Celestine Arcelona Shannon, was born in 1924 in Teague, Texas. Her father was a machinist for the Rock Island Railroad and her mother was a housewife. The family moved to Houston, Texas for better schools and to plan for higher education. She graduated from Jack Yates High School, then earned a bachelor of science degree in physical education from the Tuskegee Institute in 1944; she taught in Houston (Texas) Public Schools before her marriage to Bethel J. Strode. The Strodes lived in Galveston, Texas, and had two children together: a son, Bethel Strode, Jr., and a daughter, Bethelynn Strode. Following her husband’s death in 1947, Celestine Strode assumed presidency over her late husband’s estate which consisted of properties and investments in Texas and Illinois. She served as a member of the City of Galveston Recreation and Park Board from 1949 to 1953. In 1955 Celestine Strode remarried Good Citizen’s Life Insurance company executive Jesse W. Cook and moved to New Orleans, where she lived for the next thirty years.

Photograph of Celestine Cook and husband Jesse W. Cook, circa 1960s.
Photograph of Celestine Cook and husband Jesse W. Cook, circa 1960s.

As in Galveston, she was active politically, socially and economically in New Orleans, which is documented in the correspondence, business records and numerous invitations and photographs. She also served on many committees for events such as the Bayou Classic, the Louisiana World Exposition and the dinner commemorating Albert Dent’s retirement as president of Dillard University.

Cook was heavily involved in the Methodist Church; Zeta Phi Beta Sorority; New Orleans Chapter of the Links, Incorporated; and the New Orleans chapter of the Tuskegee Alumni Association. She was also a supporter of the arts and served in arts-related organizations including the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Friends of the Free Southern Theater, the Arts Council of New Orleans and the Business Arts Council. Additionally her papers include information about artists such as Elizabeth Catlett and Jacob Lawrence, as well as art exhibitions.


Photograph of Celestine Cook (far right) at Tuskegee Institute, likely for her twenty-year reunion, circa 1964.
Photograph of Celestine Cook (far right) at Tuskegee Institute, likely for her twenty-year reunion, circa 1964.

Overall, the papers of Celestine Cook document the role that she and many other women played in New Orleans society, both in the spotlight and in vital supporting roles. As part of the Amistad’s mission to highlight and center the voices of women, her collection was processed with funding assistance from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant project, “A Range of Experiences: Documenting African American Women’s History and Achievements.”

Celestine Cook and John O’Neal, co-founder of the Free Southern Theater, at a performance.
Celestine Cook and John O’Neal, co-founder of the Free Southern Theater, at a performance.

For more information about the life and career of Celestine Cook, please read here. Click here to find a link to the finding aid of the Celestine Cook papers.














 

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services [MH-245560-OMS-20]. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

 

Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.