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The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan

Lawyer and political leader William “Mo” Cowan was born on April 4, 1969 in Yadkinville, North Carolina to machinist William Hall and seamstress Cynthia Cowan. In 1987, Cowan graduated from Forbush High School in East Bend, North Carolina. He earned his A.B. degree in sociology from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina; and received his J.D. degree from Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, Massachusetts in 1994.

From 1997 to 2009, Cowan served on the litigation team at the law firm of Mintz Levin in Boston, Massachusetts, eventually becoming a partner. He served as an advisor to both Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr. In 2009, he became chief legal counsel to Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick, where he oversaw all legal operations for the Governor’s office. Cowan then served as Governor Patrick’s chief of staff in 2011, where he helped develop the governor’s budget and pass legislation like the Expanded Gaming Act. Governor Patrick then appointed Cowan as interim United States Senator until July 15, 2013. Cowan was the second African American senator to represent Massachusetts, as well as the first African American U.S. Senator to serve concurrently with another African American senator. Cowan chaired the Subcommittee on Nutrition, Specialty Crops, Food and Agricultural Research, and sponsored several bills during his service. After his time in the U.S. Senate, Cowan joined the Boston law firm of Mintz Levin as counsel, and served as president and chief executive officer of ML Strategies, LLC.

Cowan was a fellow at the Harvard University Institute of Politics in 2013. He also served as president of the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association, president of Northeastern University’s School of Law Alumni/ae Association Board of Directors, and as an active member of the United States Association of Former Members of Congress. Cowan sat on the Board of Trustees at Northeastern University, Massachusetts General Hospital, and The Chesnut School.

Cowan was named one of Boston’s Business Journal’s “40 Under 40,” and one of “Massachusetts Super Lawyers.” In addition to being awarded the Good Guy Award from the Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus, he received the Building A Better Boston Award from the UMass-Boston Center for Collaborative Leadership, and the Paul Robeson National Leadership Award from the Concerned Black Men of Massachusetts.

Cowan and his wife, Stacy Cowan, have two sons, Miles and Grant.

William “Mo” Cowan was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 20, 2016.

Accession Number

A2016.074

Sex

Male

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

10/20/2016

Last Name

Cowan

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Maurice

Occupation
Schools

Courtney Elementary School

Forbush High School

Duke University

Northeastern University School of Law

First Name

William

Birth City, State, Country

Yadkinville

HM ID

COW03

Favorite Season

Spring

State

North Carolina

Favorite Quote

You Are Better Than No One, But You Can Be Anyone's Equal.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Massachusetts

Interview Description
Birth Date

4/4/1969

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Boston

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Grilled Lamb

Short Description

Lawyer and political leader William “Mo” Cowan (1969- ) worked as a litigator before becoming the chief of staff in Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick’s office. He also served as an interim U.S. Senator for the State of Massachusetts in 2013.

Employment

Peabody and Arnold Law Firm

Mintz Levin

Middlesex County District Attorney Office

Massachusetts State Government

United States Government

ML Strategies

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665920">Tape: 1 Slating of The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan's interview</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665921">Tape: 1 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan lists his favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665922">Tape: 1 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan describes his mother's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665923">Tape: 1 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan talks about his mother's upbringing</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665924">Tape: 1 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan describes his mother's education and interests</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665925">Tape: 1 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan describes his father's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665926">Tape: 1 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan recalls the Ku Klux Klan's presence in Yadkinville, North Carolina, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665927">Tape: 1 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan recalls the Ku Klux Klan's presence in Yadkinville, North Carolina, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665928">Tape: 2 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan talks about his father's service in the U.S. Army</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665929">Tape: 2 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan describes his relationship with his father</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665930">Tape: 2 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan describes his likeness to his parents</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665931">Tape: 2 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan talks about his parents' family values</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665932">Tape: 2 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan describes his earliest childhood memories</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665933">Tape: 2 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan remembers spending time with his maternal grandmother</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665934">Tape: 2 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan recalls attending Courtney Elementary School in Yadkinville, North Carolina</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665935">Tape: 2 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan recalls a white childhood friend and his father's membership in Ku Klux Klan</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665936">Tape: 3 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan recalls running for student body president at Courtney Elementary School</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665937">Tape: 3 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan talks about adapting to his environment</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665938">Tape: 3 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan recalls his early social challenges, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665939">Tape: 3 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan recalls his early social challenges, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665940">Tape: 3 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan recalls attending Forbush High School in East Bend, North Carolina</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665941">Tape: 3 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan remembers pop culture in the 1980s</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665942">Tape: 3 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan describes his activities at Forbush High School in East Bend, North Carolina</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665943">Tape: 3 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan recalls his social life at Forbush High School in East Bend, North Carolina</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665944">Tape: 3 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan describes the racial tension at Forbush High School</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665945">Tape: 4 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan talks about the vocational training at Forbush High School in East Bend, North Carolina</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665946">Tape: 4 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan recalls his early teaching aspirations</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665947">Tape: 4 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan remembers his father's death</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665948">Tape: 4 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan describes the impact domestic violence had on his family</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665949">Tape: 4 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan recalls working to help his mother</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665950">Tape: 4 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan talks about his medical career aspirations</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665951">Tape: 4 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan remembers deciding not to attend an HBCU</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665952">Tape: 4 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan recalls his decision to attend Duke University in Durham, North Carolina</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665953">Tape: 4 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan remembers his graduation from Forbush High School</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665954">Tape: 5 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan recalls learning about black history at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665955">Tape: 5 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan remembers the black student groups at Duke University</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665956">Tape: 5 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan recalls his decision not to study medicine</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665957">Tape: 5 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan remembers studying sociology</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665958">Tape: 5 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan recalls his decision to pursue a law degree</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665959">Tape: 5 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan remembers the Rodney King beating</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665960">Tape: 5 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan describes his education at Duke University</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665961">Tape: 5 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan recalls President Ronald Wilson Reagan's visit to Duke University</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665962">Tape: 5 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan remembers Harvey Gantt's senatorial race</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665963">Tape: 6 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan remembers Christian Laettner</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665964">Tape: 6 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan recalls a party he threw at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665965">Tape: 6 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan describes Christian Laettner's reputation</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665966">Tape: 6 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan recalls his decision to attend Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, Massachusetts</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665967">Tape: 6 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan remembers adjusting to living in Needham, Massachusetts</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665968">Tape: 6 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan talks about the academics at Northeastern University School of Law</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665969">Tape: 6 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan remembers his peers at Northeastern University School of Law</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665970">Tape: 6 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan remembers his professors at Northeastern University School of Law</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/665971">Tape: 6 The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan recalls working at Peabody and Arnold LLC</a>

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$2

DAStory

5$8

DATitle
The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan recalls his decision to pursue a law degree
The Honorable William "Mo" Cowan recalls a white childhood friend and his father's membership in Ku Klux Klan
Transcript
Who were s- I mean, a lot of potential lawyers, you know, take political science and--had you thought about law as a, as a ultimate profession--$$No.$$--at this point?$$I came late to law as an idea, probably not until I was a junior, late in my junior year [at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina], and it's 'cause I was taking some course, I had decided on sociology as a major, had sort of prepared myself that I was gonna go to grad school because, well, what else are you gonna do with a sociology major? (Laughter) And I was taking some courses on criminal justice, the correctional system, and so one of the professors would, would bring in lawyers every once in a while to talk and I--'cause I didn't really know any lawyers, I didn't grow up around lawyers, the lawyers I knew were on TV, right. I knew who Perry Mason was but, you know, I, I'm an 'L.A. Law' kid I grew up in the '80s [1980s], right, I'm an 'L.A. Law' kid. So, he would bring these lawyers in to talk to us about various issues and I just became fascinated by the people who were in the profession and I became fascinated by how the profession empowered people to do some important things, certainly around criminal and social justice, right. And, you know, obviously if, you know, you admire people like Thurgood Marshall and all the folks in the NAACP Legal Defense Fund [NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.] and the work that was done there and how lawyers really, you know, shaped this country, right.$$Yeah, I think, you all had [HistoryMaker] Julius Chambers here in North Carolina--$$Yep, yep (simultaneous).$$--(simultaneous) who's head of the--$$Yep. And so--but you don't, when you think of those people, originally you don't think about their profession. You think about their work, right, and then you realize in part they're able to accomplish the work 'cause they chose the profession that, that they did. And you start to say to yourself 'cause, you know, I'm slightly more mature now at twenty-one, (laughter) twenty-two than I was at eighteen, you wanna actually be able to do something, at least I, at that point I was already thinking, yes, I wanna be successful in whatever it is I do but I think it's important that I try to do something, or I'd like to be able to help people too, right. Or at least, you know, do good, do well, as they say. I wasn't thinking about it necessarily in those terms but if I could then that would be great. And I thought to myself, I remember one, this one lawyer came in and the guy was incredibly arrogant and self-centered but incredibly successful and he was a criminal defense lawyer and I thought to myself, if a guy like that can use the law or a law degree to, to be successful in the way that he's been, imagine what you could do with that degree if your focus was something else, maybe helping other people. So, I began to explore the possibility of going to law school, very late in my college career by the way. And I decided that I wasn't gonna take time off, I had convinced myself that I was already in the mindset of the academic grind, it was better for me that I go immediately from college to law school and not take a break for fear that if I had t- if I did take a break I might not come back to academia.$So, during the school day I was off over here, you know, not, you know, presumab- hopefully we were all learning the same thing. But, you know, I was, so my best friends, this is kind of interesting--from basically first grade through eighth grade, my best friends in grade school were two boys named Kevin [ph.] and Tony [ph.], both white, right, lived in the neighboring community, it sort of, Courtney [Courtney Elementary School, Yadkinville, North Carolina] was a magnet school, so Kevin and Tony. At school we were virtually inseparable, you know, we were all being tracked the same way, both very bright young boys. And we just gravitated towards each other in the classroom, right. Never spent any time outside of school together, and when I say never, I mean, never. Right, in this era of playdates and, you know, parents shuttling kids all around, right. Back then, if you didn't live in the neighborhood or wasn't a bike ride away or whatever, you know, you weren't gonna be hanging out. But again everyone a bike ride away from me was black, which was great but Tony and Kevin, they lived elsewhere, our parents weren't shuttling us back and forth. To the best of my knowledge I don't know that our parents ever met each other. So, this actually ties back to the Klan [Ku Klux Klan, KKK] a little bit actually. Many, many years later I was in college, I was a freshman in college at Duke [Duke University, Durham, North Carolina] and I, I was visited on campus by one of my teachers from that period in my life who was getting some continuing, you know, she was working on a graduate degree or something and happened to be on campus, caught up with me, and we were just reminiscing. And she said to me, she always found it remarkable my relationship with Kevin in particular, to which I naively said, "Why?" And she said, "No, I just, I just thought it was both interesting and incredible in a good way that you two were so close to each other notwithstanding his father." Now, I had met his father in passing a couple of times, I had actually been at their home once, just as we were part- we were on a school trip and we just made a brief stop. And I said, "Well, what about his dad?" I said, "I didn't really know him but he seemed like a nice guy," right, this is what we say, he seems like a nice guy. She goes, "Oh, well, I just thought it was interesting that the entire, that entire period Kevin's father was a really high ranking guy in the local Ku Klux Klan." And I said, "What?" She said, "Yeah. Like it was widely known, he was very active, and I think he had a, a high rank." And I was just, you know, I'm like eighteen, nineteen, I'm like, "What, what are you talking about," right. But if you think about it, it actually is rather remarkable on some level because during the school day, maybe it turns out we both were living dual lives, Kevin and myself, right. But during the school day, we bonded, we found each other, we connected because of in that school environment, you know, and the things we were studying, he also was on the, as I mentioned he was tracked as well, so, you know, at that stage of your life, being tracked in a public school like that, you know, certainly has its upsides and socially it can have its downsides, like you guys are like the, the nerds or the outcasts, right. And so, maybe two outcasts found them, found each other but then in the outside world, never, never interacted. So, I, I've thought about it a lot since that conversation and for the record I have no way of corroborating whether or not his dad was involved in the way she said. I mean, I have no reason to doubt her but still it's just, you know, it's one of those things, and--$$Was she was a white teacher?$$Yes.$$Okay.$$Yes, yes.$$So, she knew that community somewhat (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Um-hm, yeah. So, anyway, so that was school. Grade school, as I said, Courtney was K through eighth [kindergarten through eighth grade]. I (air quotes) graduated from eighth grade in 1984.