Occasionally, we are reminded that the past is not so very distant, that we are often only a degree or two removed from the men and women whose achievements we now think of as historic. The news of the death last week of Monte LeRoque Vick Cowan, the youngest and last surviving child of Samuel H. and Annie Washington Vick, is just such a reminder.
A young Monte Vick on a snowy day.
Mrs. Cowan was born in Wilson in June 1918. World War I was raging, and Spanish flu had begun its deadly spread across the United States. At home, though, the Vick family was enjoying perhaps its period of greatest influence and prosperity. With the entrenchment of Jim Crow, Samuel Vick had retired from political life, but, described as the wealthiest man of his race in North Carolina, was involved one way or another in the establishment of nearly every important institution in East Wilson — an Odd Fellows hall, a Presbyterian church, a Baptist church, a public cemetery, a hospital, a theatre. Two months before Mrs. Cowan’s birth, black parents launched a boycott of the colored graded school, and Vick stepped forward with the offer a building to house an alternative school. Just before Mrs. Cowan’s third birthday, her father led the establishment of Wilson’s only black-owned bank. She grew up in her parents’ imposing East Green Street home in a neighborhood he largely planned with streets named for her older sisters Irma, Viola, Elba and Doris. She was five years old when Wilson Colored High School opened its doors, and a young adult when the elementary school named for her father admitted its first students in the late years of the Great Depression. World War II found Mrs. Cowan in Wilmington, Delaware, where she married Army corporal George Alexander Cowan.
Mrs. Cowan’s 101 years offer a bridge to places and events that can now seem remote. Her long life reminds us of the reach of our roots and invites remembrance and recognition of those upon whose shoulders we stand.
Rest in peace, Monte Vick Cowan.
Monte L. Cowan passed on February 12, 2020. She was a Maywood, N.J., resident, formerly of East Orange. She was a graduate of Bennett College of Greensboro, N.C., class of 1940. She was a life long member The Silver Steppers of East Orange, N.J.
Mrs. Cowan leaves to cherish her memories her daughter Vicki M. Cowan, granddaughter Kyara A. Cowan, nieces Joyce Freeman, Beverly Adams, Darnell Street, Denise Cowan, Emma Cowan, Roslyn Lanham, and a host of other relatives and friends. Funeral Services Tuesday February 18, 10 am at Mt. Olive Baptist Church 260 Central Avenue, Hackensack. Visitation 9-10 am Tuesday at the church. Cremation at the convenience of the family. In lieu of flowers donations can be made to Bennett College of Greensboro, N.C. in the name of Monte L. Vick Cowan Class of 1940. Arrangements by Earl I. Jones Funeral Home, 305 First Street, Hackensack. Brent Smallwood Senior Director.
My thanks and condolences to Vicki L. Cowan on the loss of her mother and for sharing these family photographs. Thanks also to Cynthia S. Ellis for the notification of Mrs. Cowan’s passing and for connecting me with the Vick-Cowan family.