Family Tree

Before anyone ever imagined interim Mayor Ken Cockrel Jr., Detroit was captivated by attorney, blazing radical sensation, and mayor-expected-to-be Ken Cockrel Sr.
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Family Tree
Ken Cockrel Sr. Photograph Courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther library, Wayne State University

Before anyone ever imagined interim Mayor Ken Cockrel Jr., Detroit was captivated by attorney, blazing radical sensation, and mayor-expected-to-be Ken Cockrel Sr. (1938-1989), pictured here in 1969. The two share the same warm smile, but otherwise were anything but look-alikes. Father was tall, lanky, and sported an Afro. Son has the solid build of a football lineman, combs his “hair” with a washcloth, and was famously called “Shrek” earlier this year by now-Council President Monica Conyers. Stylistically, the men also couldn’t have been more different. The new interim mayor is a former journalist — cautious, deliberate, and not exactly a riveting speaker. His father was a high-school dropout who became a lawyer, and a spellbinding sensation, who once called a Recorder’s Court judge a “lawless, racist, rogue bandit, thief, pirate, honky dog fool,” and then managed to beat the contempt charge. An endless crusader for justice and against racism in the police and courts, Cockrel Sr. led the citizens’ group that opposed the Detroit Police Department’s infamous STRESS (Stop the Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets) units that were accused of deliberately targeting young black men. The senior Cockrel was elected to City Council in 1977, exactly two decades ahead of his son, but retired after a single term, frustrated with how little he had been able to accomplish. Friends said he was gearing up for a run for mayor when a sudden heart attack felled him on April 25, 1989. Though different in tone, those who knew the father and know the son say they were immensely proud of each other. So, how does current City Council member Sheila Cockrel fit in? She was a close aide to Ken Sr. and became his second wife in 1978. The interim mayor is the son of Carol, the elder Cockrel’s first wife.

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