Walter L. Cohen

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Walter L. Cohen, Sr.
Born (1860-01-22)January 22, 1860
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Died December 29, 1930(1930-12-29) (aged 70)
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Nationality American


Leader of the Black and Tan Republicans
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Antonia Manadé Cohen

Walter L. Cohen, Jr.
Bernard J. Cohen

Margot C. Farrell (Margot Camille Cohen Jones? [1])
Parent(s) Bernard and Amerlia Bingaman Cohen

Walter L. Cohen, Sr. (January 22, 1860 – December 29, 1930)[3] was an African-American Republican politician and businessman in the U.S. state of Louisiana.

The New Orleans native was the son of Bernard Cohen and the former Amelia Bingaman. Like his better-known compatriot Homer Adolph Plessy, Cohen was a free black prior to passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. He was Catholic by religion, but had some Jewish ancestry, and he noted that he was part of the most-hated ethnic group and most-hated religious group by the resurging Ku Klux Klan.[2]

Educated in New Orleans, he was married to the former Antonia Manadé, and the couple had three children: Walter Cohen, Jr., Bernard J. Cohen, and Margot C. Farrell.[4]

Political career[edit]

Cohen's political activity mushroomed in the 1890s, after the Reconstruction era, when he became one of the few blacks to hold appointed office into the 20th century. During this period, Cohen and fellow black Louisiana federal appointee James Lewis were the most important political allies of Booker T. Washington in the state, which played a role in their success.[5] U.S. President William McKinley named Cohen a customs inspector in New Orleans. McKinley's successor, Theodore Roosevelt, appointed him register of the federal land office.[4] (Louisiana at the time elected a register of state lands, among them the first woman in statewide elected office in the 20th century, Lucille May Grace.)

Even when the African-American-dominated Black and Tan faction lost power after 1912 to the Lily-White Movement within the Republican Party, Cohen obtained the position of comptroller of customs by appointment from President Warren G. Harding.[6] He succeeded A.W. Newlin as comptroller of customs. The New York Times referred to the office as "one of the most lucrative federal offices" in the U.S. South.[6] Harding's successor, Calvin Coolidge, renewed Cohen's appointment.[4] Though he had been a delegate to all Republican National Conventions between 1896 and 1924,[7] Cohen was later ousted as secretary of the now 144-member Louisiana State Republican Central Committee and instead headed a dissenting group. In 1928, Cohen favored U.S. Senator Charles Curtis of Kansas for the Republican presidential nomination, but the party selection went nearly unanimously to Herbert Hoover, the outgoing secretary of commerce. Curtis then became the GOP vice presidential nominee. In 1928, Coolidge offered Cohen the position of minister to Liberia, but he declined the offer.[4]

A successful businessman, Cohen was the founder and president of the People's Life Insurance Company in New Orleans, a large industrial company whose clients were blacks. Cohen was a member of Corpus Christi Catholic Church in New Orleans. He died in New Orleans and is interred there at St. Louis Cemetery III, 2022 Saint Bernard Avenue.[4][8]

Cohen's death came some six years before black voters began a longstanding shift from Republican to Democratic Party allegiance with the reelection in 1936 of Franklin D. Roosevelt.[9]



  1. ^ [1] "Madame Camille Cohen Jones"
  2. ^ a b Ingham, John N; Feldman, Lynne B (1994). African-American business leaders: a biographical dictionary. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 145. ISBN 978-0-313-27253-0. 
  3. ^ "A spokesman for his people, Walter Cohen..". African American Registry. 
  4. ^ a b c d e "Cohen, Walter L.". A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography. Louisiana Historical Association. Retrieved December 25, 2010. 
  5. ^ Clark, Thomas D., Louis R. Harlan, Raymond W. Smock, and Barbara S. Kraft. "The Booker T. Washington Papers, Volume 5, 1899-1900." (1977): p239
  6. ^ a b "Negro Gets $5,000 Office: President Appoints Walter L. Cohen Customs Collector at New Orleans". The New York Times. November 5, 1922. Retrieved December 21, 2010. 
  7. ^ "Index to Politicians: Cohen". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved December 21, 2010. 
  8. ^ A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography bases its article on Cohen from the New Orleans Times-Picayune, December 30 and 31, 1930; the Pittsburgh Courier, January 10, 1931; Charles Roussève, The Negro in Louisiana: Aspects of His History and His Literature (1937); Louis Harlan, ed., The Papers of Booker T. Washington, VIIII (1972); Robert Meyers, Jr., Names Over New Orleans Public Schools (1975).
  9. ^ "1936: Roosevelt Defeats Landon". Kennesaw State University. Retrieved December 25, 2010. 
  10. ^ "Academy of Health Sciences: Walter L. Cohen High School". Walter L. Cohen High School; Academy of Health Sciences. Retrieved December 21, 2010.