Jan and Carrol Cox, Political Activists

Corey Mattson

JAN AND CARROL Cox, longtime organizers for social justice and members of Solidarity from Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, passed away within months of each other in summer 2018.  For over 40 years, they were well-known and respected for their political activism, beginning with their radicalization in the 1960s, and together were a bedrock for the local activist community.

Carrol was born July 22, 1930 in Benton Township, Michigan, a small town surrounded by farms. The son of Carrol and Lillian Cox, he served four years in the air force during the Korean War, working as a military analyst/cryptographer. There he met and married his first wife, Jessica Bowing. They had two children, Cathy and Laurie. In 1969 Jessica died from kidney disease.

Carrol received his B.A. in English from Western Michigan College in 1951, his M.A. from the University of Michigan in 1957 and his doctorate in 1964. From 1961 to 1997 he taught English at Illinois State University, developing innovative approaches to teaching English composition. Yet as he became politically active, he never found a way of combining the writing or teaching the work of the early English poets he enjoyed, particularly John Milton and Alexander Pope, with his activism.

Carrol enjoyed recounting the story of his long journey to socialism. He recalled telling a friend at the time of the Freedom Rides in early 1961 that while their cause was just, their tactics were too radical. It was the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965 that moved him to the left. By the time Students for a Democratic Society was looking for a faculty advisor for their chapter, Carrol was happy to sign up. He survived attempts to get him disciplined for his antiwar activities.

Janice Kay Peters,  the daughter of Warren and Mary Lewis Peters, was born July 23, 1947 in Olney, Illinois. She arrived on campus and quickly found SDS, where the two developed a working relationship.

Before Jan met Carrol she had a baby that she gave up for adoption. Many years later, and just before her marriage, Heidi Andrews located her birth mother and became part of the family.

Jan married Carrol after his first wife’s death and had a son, Mark Hampton Cox, named after Black Panthers Mark Clark and Fred Hampton.

She worked at the post office, eventually serving as steward in the American Postal Workers Union and then as president of the Bloomington local. She had a second career as a network engineer at State Farm from 1999 until retiring in 2012.

Partners in Organizing

Jan and Carrol’s opposition to the Vietnam War and their decades of steadfast devotion to progressive causes naturally brought people to want to work alongside them. In the 1970s and 1980s, Jan and Carrol worked in many different struggles and organizations, and also extended their work to socialist organizing. They were members of the Red Star Council, the League of Revolutionary Struggle, Students for a Free Palestine, New Voice, CISPES and Solidarity.

They enjoyed going to socialist conferences, always carefully planning what workshops they would attend. Both were involved in anti-racist work for decades, up until 2018 with their involvement in the local Black Lives Matter group. In 2003, they helped found the local antiwar coalition, Bloomington-Normal Community for Peace and Justice, and together were its central participants until its disbandment in 2014.

As Carrol became legally blind, the two found ways to keep Carrol reading both printed and web-based information.

Jan loved the outdoors, both as a gardener and as a morel mushroom hunter so it was no surprise when she became active in the movement for environmental justice. She also loved music, playing the flute, oboe and piano and when in the mood, sang and whistled enthusiastically.

In the fall of 2014 Carrol and Jan attended both the massive People’s Climate march and the ecosocialist conference that preceded it. Jan convened Solidarity’s Ecosocialist Working Group and coauthored a review of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything for Against the Current. She and had plans to write more, but developed cancer that eventually took her life. Locally she was active in the ecological sustainability organization Vision 2020. Her leadership in Vision 2020 significantly broadened the focus of the group to include systemic responses to the climate change crisis.

After Jan’s death, Carrol remarked to a friend that when his first wife died, he felt he’d been in the middle of a conversation, and suddenly there was silence. He said that almost 50 years of marriage with Jan he felt the same sudden silence.

Just a week after her death, when he learned he too had cancer, Carrol decided he wanted no medical intervention and died shortly after his 88th birthday.

The two were at the heart of the social justice community in Bloomington-Normal. They will be greatly missed by friends, family, and all those who knew them in their work to make a more just and peaceful world.

November-December 2018, ATC 197