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1999 NCC News Archives

Alva ("Al") Irwin Cox, Jr., 74, Independent Film Maker, Dies

Nov. 26, 1999, COS COB, Conn. — Alva ("Al") Irwin Cox, Jr., 74, an independent film maker whose work chronicled the civil rights movement, human rights struggles and ecumenical Christianity both nationally and globally, died at his home here on Nov. 19 of natural causes.

A private service will be held in Greenwich, Conn., on Saturday, Nov. 27, with a public memorial service set for 2 p.m. Dec. 14 in Christ Chapel of The Riverside Church, 490 Riverside Drive, New York City. Arrangements are being handled by Gallagher's Funeral Home in Greenwich, Conn.

Over the decades, Cox produced a stream of films about social problems and the churches' response. Colleagues described his lifelong interest in racial justice and his work to chronicle the civil rights struggle during the 1960s. His more than 50 historical, cultural, theological and documentary programs included "Kent State: May 1970," on the shooting of student protestors by the U.S. National Guard, and "Weeping in the Playtime of Others," which exposed the problems of child labor in the U.S. coal mining industry.

Many of his films, videos and other audiovisual resources were made on contract with organizations including the National Council of Churches, United Methodist Church, YWCA, Alaska Native Foundation, Aleutian/Pribilof Island Association, Alaska Children's Service and The Interchurch Center (New York City), among others.

At the time of his death, he and another ecumenical independent film maker, Larry Hollon, were making a film on newly emerging Protestant churches in countries including Honduras and Nepal. The film, currently in "rough cut," is slated to be shown at the United Methodist Church's May, 2000, Quadrennial General Conference in Cleveland.

Colleagues spoke of Cox's important "behind the scenes" roles of building connections among major media, churches and justice movements and of telling the story of those movements.

As Protestant consultant to CBS-TV's Sunday morning "Look Up and Live" series from 1967-76, Cox "was the best bridge for CBS to the civil rights movement, and he was the one who established our credibility with civil rights leaders," said Pamela Ilott, former CBS-TV vice president for cultural and religious broadcasting, now retired. "I don't think people know the debt they owe to Al Cox for being such a vital link between religious faith, social consciousness, and the creation of public awareness about the truth of racism. Andrew Young, in his memoirs, cited Al Cox of CBS as the key to creating a relationship with the network."

Ilott continued, "Al was ahead of so much of the then current church thinking of the 50's and 60's. He was willing to try out new ideas and to take risks. He was a real ally for me. Those many decades ago, I think he represented the very best of the younger church movement of the churches in civil rights and reconciliation. And his later work simply confirmed that. This shouldn't be forgotten.

"Civic officials name streets for famous people who have made a positive difference in our world," she said. "But those who made it possible for the famous to do their important work need to be remembered as well. Al Cox worked behind the scenes with great skill and courage and I hope he will be remembered for the important role he played in enabling the story of justice and truth to be told."

Contacted with word of Cox's death, Ambassador Young — whose long association with Cox included service together with Cox on the staff of the National Council of Churches in the 1950s — said of him, "Countless Americans unknowingly have viewed the civil rights movement through the eyes of Al Cox. Al early identified the Gospel's demands within the Movement, stayed with it when the going got rough and subsequently interpreted its meaning to two more generations."

Active in the student Christian movement in the 1940s, he was one of the youngest participants in attendance at the founding meeting of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam in 1948 and was present at the WCC's 50th anniversary Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1998. He was the co-author with John B. Lindner of a book and documentary film, "By Faith: Christian Students Among the Cloud of Witnesses," a history of the ecumenical student Christian movement in the U.S.A., published in 1991 by the NCC's Friendship Press.

Cox joined the Christian education staff of the National Council of Churches (U.S.) in 1951, and served on the Council's staff until 1967 in the areas of evangelism and audiovisual and broadcast production and education. His father, the Rev. Alva I. Cox, served pastorates all around northeastern Ohio and was a Methodist Church delegate to the NCC's founding convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1950.

Two weeks before he died, Cox provided audiovisual technical support for the NCC's 50th anniversary celebrations, held Nov. 9-12 in Cleveland.

The Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, NCC general secretary, noted, "Al Cox was a participant observer of the modern ecumenical movement in every important venue for the last half century. His passing impoverishes us with a lack of living connection to the generation that dreamed the dream of a unified Christian witness."

Cox, born in Mayfield, Ohio, on April 27, 1925, the son of Helen R. (Roe) Cox and the Rev. Alva I. Cox. He graduated Baldwin Wallace College, Berea, Ohio, in 1945; earned his master of divinity degree from Garrett Theological Seminary, Evanston, Ill., in 1948, and his master of sacred theology from Yale Divinity School in 1957. He was ordained to the Methodist diaconate and served Grace Methodist Church in Waterbury, Conn., as pastor in 1948-51.

His many consultancies included Baldwin Wallace College Department of Sociology (1976- 77, examining the long-range consequences of school desegregation); the National Council of La Raza, Washington, D.C. (1974-76, examining racism in the media); the Council of Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; the National Board of the YWCA, and the Congress of National Black Churches.

He was founder and president of Synesthetics Inc., Cos Cob, providing communications consulting and training since 1967.

Cox is survived by his partner of 25 years, Marceline Watler; four children -- David Cox of Oxford, Conn., Daniel Cox of Dublin, Calif., Catherine Callahan of Cos Cob, Conn., and Deborah Stevenson of Bethel, Conn.; 16 grandchildren, three sisters --Jean Cox Garth of Doylestown, Ohio, Jan Cox Marouse of Shaker Heights, Ohio, and Katherine Cox Fritzsche of Salem, S.C.; and a brother, James Cox of Washington, D.C.

In lieu of flowers the family requests memorial gifts to the World Student Christian Federation, Baldwin Wallace College or the Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation.

-end-

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