Our VoiceCulture

What Would Marvel Cooke Say?

Jessica Acee • Apr 15, 2013


If she were still alive, Marvel Cooke would be 100 years old this month. She was a ceiling-busting radical who gets little mention in the history books.  As congress gets ready to release an immigration reform bill that will likely ignore women and their families, her work is all the more relevant today. 

Marvel Cooke


Marvel Cooke was an activist and a journalist: the first female black journalist to write for a white owned paper.  In 1935, along with civil rights strategist Ella Baker, Cooke wrote an expose entitled The Bronx Slave Market.  The title refers the lines of black women waiting for work on the street corners in the Bronx.  These women sought hourly domestic work for which they earned 20 or 25 cents an hour and then were often cheated out of their wages.  Sadly, despite the efforts of Cooke, to this day, day labor and other forms of job insecurity remain a reality for many black and immigrant domestic workers in New York City.

Throughout the city, many black and immigrant women are temporary workers, day laborers, or domestic workers.  For immigrant women, this excludes them almost across the board from meeting requirements for legalization by proving their residency with pay stubs or other paperwork.  In a Senate Judiciary hearing last month, Ai-jen Poo, the Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, spoke to the need for their members, “a growing workforce of mainly immigrant women who take care of our children, our aging loved ones and our homes,” as she described them, to be allowed some flexibility in proving that they have been living and working in the United States.  Unsurprisingly, none of the members of the Senate Gang of 8 who are writing the immigration bill —  all men, by the way — bothered to attend the hearing.

Three-quarters of immigrants are women and children.  A recent and brilliant Colorlines article has aptly named our immigration policies “sexclusionary” and it doesn’t appear that the immigration reform bill expected out this week will address any of these issues.  As the debate on immigration reform takes life over the coming months, we owe it to ourselves and our sisters to demand just and equitable policies which address the injustices women and their families face on their journey to American citizenship.

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