DETROIT -- Kenneth Cockrel, a famed civil rights activist, attorney and former City Council member, died late Tuesday of an apparent heart attack. He was 50.
Cockrel was taken by ambulance from his Northwest Side home to Grace Hospital around 11:35 p.m. Tuesday, and he was pronounced dead 15 minutes later, the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office said. A hospital spokesman confirmed Cockrel died in the hospital's emergency room of an apparent heart attack.
Cockrel first became known to the public in the late 1960s when he defended black militants. He recently was in the news because he was considering running for mayor of Detroit.
Cockrel had taken out nominating petitions and paperwork for fund-raising and had talked about possibly entering the race this summer for the Sept. 12 primary.
Cockrel, born Nov. 5, 1938, in Detroit, was a thin, tall man who was known for his sharp wit, rapid manner of talking and sense of humor.
In 1969, Cockrel defended one of the individuals accused in the killing and wounding of two Detroit police officers when they stormed a meeting of the separatist group, Republic of New Africa, at the New Bethel Baptist Church.
During pre-trial hearings, Cockrel became angered at the judge's courtroom conduct and stormed from the courtroom and was quoted as calling the judge 'a racist monkey, a honky dog and a thieving pirate.'
The judge and others called for Cockrel's disbarment but Cockrel and his numerous defenders responded that he was expressing the sentiment of Detroit's black population. Cockrel was never disbarred.
Cockrel also was instrumental in mounting community protests that led to disbanding of a special police undercover group known as STRESS in 1974 after Coleman Young became mayor.
Cockrel was a council member between 1978 and 1982 and often took issue with Young's downtown development strategy for the city.
Cockrel is survived by his widow, Sheila Murphy, a noted community organizer; a son, Kenneth Jr., and a daughter, Kate.