Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Cockrel, Sheila

Sheila Cockrel is an activist and community organizer who served on the Detroit City Council for four terms. Born on November 3, 1947 in Detroit, she was raised in Corktown by her activist parents, Lou and Justine Murphy, who founded the Detroit Catholic Worker movement and were dedicated to helping serve needy people in the community. Cockrel attended Wayne State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a master’s degree in urban planning. 

She began honing her organizing and political skills at the West Central Organization where she met Ken Cockrel. In 1968, she formed the citywide Ad-Hoc Action Group to monitor police activities after two incidents of police brutality at Cobo Hall. She also founded the Motor City Labor League and the Labor Defense Coalition.

In 1978, she married Ken Cockrel, whose successful campaign for Detroit City Council she had managed the year before. During her husband’s time on the City Council, Sheila Cockrel served as the manager and administrator of his office. Ken Cockrel passed away in 1989; they had one daughter, Katherine. Sheila Cockrel is the step-mother to former Detroit City Council member Ken Cockrel, Jr., Cockrel’s son by his first marriage. 

Sheila Cockrel ran for Detroit City Council in 1993 and was re-elected in 1997, 2001 and 2005. She retired from the Council in 2009 when she founded Crossroads Consulting, specializing in public policy and public affairs. She is an adjunct faculty member of Wayne State University's Honor College.

Cockrel is the chief executive officer of Citizen Detroit, an organization that promotes research, discussion and action around public policy, government and citizen involvement.