SERIOUS HISTORY: Milledgeville native become's first African-American female Federal Reserve Board member in history


Milledgeville native Lisa Cook made a whole lot of history this week, becoming the first African-American woman approved to serve on the Federal Reserve Board in its 108 years of existence.

The Federal Reserve essentially is "America's central bank," and its seven-person board is tasked with "making the country's monetary policy."

Lisa completed her undergraduate work at both Spelman College in Atlanta and Oxford University in the United Kingdom, where she holds a B.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. Her Ph.D. is from California-Berkeley "with fields in macroeconomics and international economics." She most recently was an economics professor at Michigan State University.

Older and more seasoned people around Milledgeville may remember Lisa Cook's parents – Payton and Mary Cook. Payton Cook was a chaplain and the first African-American senior administrator in Central State Hospital history, while Mary Cook was a community activist and planner, who could often be found on weekends sitting behind a folding table in front of the southside Piggly Wiggly, passing out leaflets and touting whichever initiative she was working on at the time. 

The Cooks, now deceased, had three daughters – Pamela, Lisa and Melanie. Georgia College's Office of Communications several years ago wrote a really nice piece that highlighted the family. Here are some excerpts:

All three daughters emulated their parents’ passion for making their community a better place. So, they can attest to the magnitude of their parents’ outreach.

Mary loved working with students. She was a hard-working student herself – becoming valedictorian in both high school and college. Years later, she became the first African-American on Georgia College’s faculty serving as a professor of nursing from 1969 until 1984. She also played vital roles in her community.

Mary became the first advisor of the Black Student Alliance (BSA) at Georgia College from 1977 until 1984 and was instrumental in chartering a chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, a national public service organization, at Georgia College. She nurtured many African-American students—most of whom were first-generation college students. Mary also served on the Lyceum Committee, where she helped choose speakers and programs for the college to sponsor.

In addition to being the first African-American senior administrator at Central State Hospital and a mentor to employees there, the sisters’ father was also heavily involved in service. Payton was president of NAACP, where he worked on racial conciliation in the community. He also served as a foundation trustee at Georgia College and on the Human Relations Committee. Payton was a member of the Oconee Area Planning and Development Commission, Big Brothers Big Sisters program, a 4-H leader, as well as a member of the board of directors of Baldwin County Hospital.

And changing the world he did. Even after he died, Payton’s work in the community continued to be felt. Melanie was awestruck at what she observed at her father’s funeral.

“People tried to repay loans my father made for them to prevent their electricity from being turned off, or if they needed help getting a child out of trouble,” she said. “My father’s kindness didn’t stop there. Some single mothers told me how he encouraged them to go back to school, so they could take care of their families. Then, he encouraged and helped them get into college and offered them jobs when they graduated.”


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