Walter L. Cohen

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Walter L. Cohen, Sr.​

(Leader of Black and Tan Republicans in New Orleans)

Born January 22, 1860​
New Orleans, Louisiana
Died December 29, 1930
(aged 70)​
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.​
Political Party Republican
Spouse Antonia Manadé Cohen​

Walter L. Cohen, Jr.
​ Bernard J. Cohen
​ Margot Camille Cohen Jones[1]
Bernard and Amerlia Bingaman Cohen ​

Religion Roman Catholic[2]​​

Walter L. Cohen, Sr. (January 22, 1860 – December 29, 1930),[3] was an African-American Republican politician and businessman in his native New Orleans, Louisiana.​ ​


Cohen's father, Bernard Cohen, was Jewish. His mother was the former Amelia Bingaman. Like his better-known compatriot Homer Adolph Plessy (1862-1925) of the Plessy v. Ferguson opinion of the United States Supreme Court, Cohen was a free black prior to passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. He was a Roman Catholic despite his Jewish heritage. He noted that he was part of 'the most-hated ethnic group and most-hated religious group by the resurgence of the 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]

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. [4]

Political career

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. 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 elected to statewide office, 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.[5] 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 American South.[5] 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,[6]

Cohen was later ousted as secretary of the Baton Rouge-based 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 under Hoove. In 1928, Coolidge offered Cohen the position of minister to Liberia, but he declined the offer.[4]​ ​ Cohen was a member of Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church in New Orleans. He died in New Orleans and is interred there at St. Louis Cemetery III, 2022 Saint Bernard Avenue.[4][7]

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


  • Walter L. Cohen High School in New Orleans is named in his honor.[8]


  1. Madame Camille Cohen Jones. Retrieved on April 13, 2020.
  2. 2.0 2.1 John N. Ingham and Lynne B. Feldman (1994). African-American Business Leaders: A Biographical Dictionary. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-27253-0. Retrieved on April 13, 2020. 
  3. "A spokesman for his people, Walter Cohen," African American Registry, undated; no longer on-line.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Cohen, Walter L.. A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography: Louisiana Historical Association. Retrieved on April 13, 2020.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Negro Gets $5,000 Office: President Appoints Walter L. Cohen Customs Collector at New Orleans. The New York Times (November 5, 1922). Retrieved on April 13, 2020.
  6. Index to Politicians: Cohen. The Political Graveyard. Retrieved on April 13, 2020.
  7. 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).​
  8. Academy of Health Sciences: Walter L. Cohen High School. Walter L. Cohen High School; Academy of Health Sciences. Retrieved on December 21, 2010.

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