Cover photo for Shirley Wright Cooks's Obituary
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1944 Shirley 2024

Shirley Wright Cooks

August 27, 1944 — January 19, 2024


Shirley Wright Cooks passed away peacefully on January 19, 2024, with family lovingly by her side. She was 79.

 Shirley was born on August 27, 1944 to Melvine and William Wright in New York City. Her early education was divided between New York and Aboukir, St. Ann, Jamaica. Shirley graduated from St. Paul’s school in Los Angeles in 1958 and became acquainted with leaders and staff members of both SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) when she moved from Los Angeles to New York to live with her brother and sister-in-law, Harry and Julie Belafonte, and their children. She studied at Bank Street College, New School for Social Research, and New York University during that time.

 By the mid-1960s, Shirley had moved to Atlanta to work full-time in the Civil Rights Movement as a member of the SNCC administrative staff with additional work on Voter Registration field projects in Alabama and Mississippi. Her work included liaison outreach with SCLC where she met her future husband, Stoney Cooks. They were married in September 1970 and settled in Atlanta the following year. Shirley gave birth to her first child in 1972, the year Andrew Young was elected to Congress becoming the first African American representative from the deep south since Reconstruction.

 Shirley worked in the principal’s office at Peabody Elementary school in Washington, D.C. in 1974 and gave birth to her second son in 1976. In 1977, when Andrew Young was appointed U.N. Ambassador by President Jimmy Carter, Shirley and Stoney and their two children moved to New York City where she worked at AAI (the African American Institute). In 1981, Shirley gave birth to her third son and the couple returned to Atlanta with their three children where she served in the position of Director, Bureau of Cultural Affairs under Parks and Recreation for the city of Atlanta. Continuing her work in public service, Shirley returned to work as Legislative Affairs Director at AAI in Washington, D.C. then served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs at the U.S. Department of State under Madeleine Albright followed by her work as Chief of Staff for the U.S. House Representatives Juanita Millender-McDonald (CA), Laura Richardson (CA), and Steve Cohen (TN) before retiring.

 Shirley will be remembered as a beautiful soul with an enormous heart, a wonderful sense of humor, her unwavering generosity, loyalty, zest for life, and kindness. She is survived by her three sons, Caleb, Judah, and Micah, her grandchildren, Stoney Nakoda and Wiyot Adeline, and her many loyal friends and extended family members. A ceremony will be held later in the year and we will notify all friends and family.





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