(b. 1943), poet, essayist, and journalist.
Charles E. Cobb Jr., was born in Washington, D.C., in 1943. The son of a Methodist minister, he lived in several eastern states before enrolling in the African American program at Howard University in 1961. He left in 1962 to work for five years with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in several southern states, and was involved in the tense struggle for voting rights in Mississippi.
Cobb's first volume of poetry, In the Furrows of the World (1967), illustrated with his own photographs, grew out of his civil rights work and his 1967 visit to Vietnam. The poems were written in lyrical free verse with little capitalization or punctuation, and expressed concern, anger, and hope. Some of the poems, like “Nation,” spoke with quiet eloquence of a time when African Americans would have a proud sense of self and nationhood.
After his SNCC years, Cobb worked with the Center for Black Education in Washington from 1968 to 1969, and then served on the board of directors of Drum and Spear Press from 1969 to 1974. In 1969 he also made an extended visit to Tanzania, where he came to recognize the need for an intensive examination of the link between African Americans and their African heritage. Cobb published another volume of poetry, Everywhere Is Yours, in 1971. The eight poems in that volume continued the theme of hope in the face of oppression. One particularly moving poem in the volume, “Koyekwisa Ya Libala,” was an account of an African wedding and included several passages of wisdom from the ancient priest, incorporated into the marriage chant. In another poem, “To Vietnam,” Cobb implied a parallel between Vietnamese nationalism and the fight against American racism. Cobb also discussed his African experience in African Notebook: Views on Returning Home in 1971. He advocated an intensive examination of the link between African Americans and their African heritage, but he also advised against the American tendency to romanticize Africa because of ignorance. His concern with the lesson Africa could teach was also reflected in another poem, “Nation No. 3,” from Everywhere Is Yours, where he spoke of standing “son to Mother Africa” and claiming all its experience as his own.
Cobb's more recent work as an essayist and journalist has reflected his interest in social, environmental, and political issues. He served as foreign affairs reporter for the Public Broadcasting System from 1976 to 1979, and wrote and produced numerous documentaries from 1979 to 1985. He also wrote freelance articles for several journals, and joined the staff of National Geographic in 1985. His credits for National Geographic include articles on such places as Grenada, Zimbabwe, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Although Cobb has turned his focus away from poetry, his writing has matured, and the vitality and concern with people, their rights and possibilities, that energized his earliest work has continued.
James Forman, The Making of Black Revolutionaries, 1972, pp. 297–299.Charles E. Cobb Jr.,, interview by Howell Raines, My Soul Is Rested, 1977, pp. 244–248.Clara Williams, “ Charles E. Cobb Jr.,,” in DLB, vol. 41, Afro-American Poets since 1955, eds. Trudier Harris and Thadious M. Davis, 1985, pp. 60–64.“ Cobb, Charles E., Jr., ” in CA, vol. 142, ed. James G. Lesniak, 1994, pp. 77–78.