Charles Moses Cohen, who was one of the early African-American male teachers to work in the School District of Philadelphia, passed away on March 30, 2021. Cohen was 94.
In 1956, the Philadelphia Public School System hired a small group of Black male teachers for the first time. They had previously only employed Black female teachers. Cohen was among that group, making him one of the first Black male teachers in the School District of Philadelphia.
Cohen started teaching math, but spent most of his career teaching English. He loved teaching Shakespeare and African-American literature. He taught full-time until the mid 1980s and then returned as a substitute until he moved to Pittsburgh in 2007, giving the School District of Philadelphia more than 50 years of service.
Cohen was the fourth child born to Henry Edward Cohen and Isabella Holloman Cohen on March 23, 1927, in Augusta, Georgia. His father had moved there from Aiken, South Carolina, to open a tailor shop. Due to his mother being ill when he was born, he was raised by his aunts, Edna Nicholson and Louis Holloman, during his first few years of life. In 1929, Henry Cohen lost his tailor shop in the Great Depression. All of the family except Cohen then moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, leaving him behind with his aunts. Cohen joined the rest of hos family when he became of school age.
Due to the Depression and segregation, Cohen lived a tough life in his early years. At six years old, he helped his older brother sell coal and newspapers. But Cohen was a very bright and talented young man who early on demonstrated good athletic ability and had a beautiful singing voice. These qualities made him stand out in school.
He finished high school a year early to start at Temple University. but he was there less than a year when he was drafted into World War II.
Cohen served three tours of duty in the Pacific theater while in World War II. While there, he became a noncommissioned officer and learned to speak Japanese fluently. When he returned from the war, he decided to go into the Army Reserves and used the GI Bill to matriculate at New York University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in General Science.
He though about making the military his career and entered Korean War as a major in 1951. He served in the 644th Engineer Battalion. By the end of the war, he had reached the rank of captain, but decided instead to return to civilian life.
Cohen returned to Philadelphia in 1953, where he came across an old childhood friend, MaChere Tresville. She had graduated from Bennett College, a Historically Black College and University for African-American women, in Greensboro, North Carolina, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in music. This time they fell in love. With his baritone voice and her virtuoso abilities as a pianist, they began a music program for neighborhood children in the basement of MaChere’s parents house in Germantown.
On October 9, 1954, MaChere and Cohen married. They went on to have eight children — four girls and four boys. One son died of pneumonia in infancy and one daughter died of cancer in 2006.
Cohen is survived by his 95-year-old wife, MaChere; one remaining sibling, Joseph; six of his eight children; 13 grandchildren; one great granddaughter, Yemaya; and a host of cousins, nieces and nephews.
Funeral services will be held at Spriggs-Watson Funeral Home in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, April 7. The viewing will be from 10 a.m. to noon. The funeral service will begin at noon. If you wish to send flower arrangements to the funeral home, Spriggs-Watson asks that you contact James Floral & Gift Shoppe at www.jamesfloralshope.com or 1-800-860-3794. In lieu of money gifts, please give donations to the Afro-American Music Institute at afroamericanmusic.org.