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This Day in Georgia History

December 10, 1891

Walter Cocking Born

To view an image of students protesting during the Cocking affair, see the Digital Library of Georgia.

Educator Walter Cocking was born in Manchester, Iowa. Graduating from Columbia University, Cocking began an impressive career in education, becoming a pioneer in the idea of individualized instruction and specialized curricula, classrooms, and language laboratories. In 1937, he was recruited as dean of the University of Georgia’s College of Education. Soon after arriving the University System of Georgia Board of Regents directed Cocking to embark on a study of state-supported higher education for blacks in the state. One of his conclusions was that a vast disparity existed between postsecondary education for blacks and whites in Georgia. Finding such as this did not endear Cocking to some white educators and politicians. Compounding the situation, some University of Georgia faculty and staff felt Cocking had an abrasive personality. Complaints that Cocking was advocating social equality of the races reached the ear of Governor Eugene Talmadge, who had Cocking fired, supposedly because he advocated the integration of public schools. Cocking had advocated improvement in black schools, while pointing out their obvious inadequacies, but had not publicly advocated integration. Cocking appealed his dismissal and presented compelling evidence to the Board of Regents that he was innocent of the charges. But allies of Gov. Talmadge (who appointed members of the board and himself was an ex officio member) controlled the Board of Regents and the decision stood. Talmadge’s political interference led the Southeastern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools to strip the accreditation of ten white state colleges in Georgia. After this episode Cocking left Georgia and went on to continue a distinguished career in the field of education, including the founding of the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration in 1947. The Cocking Affair led state attorney general Ellis Arnall to successfully defeat Talmadge in the next election for governor. Cocking was subsequently invited to return to the University of Georgia, but he declined. He died at his home in Mamaroneck, New York on January 14, 1964.