From “Doing One Thing Well: Who is State Senator Steve Cohen, and How Did He Get That Way?" (Memphis Magazine, October 2001) ...When he was five years old, the age at which, Freud says, the psyche is achieving its first complete sense of itself, young Steve Cohen had an experience which is bound to have had an incalculable effect on him. Perhaps it even explains why his father, Dr. Morris Cohen, changed medical courses in mid-career, from pediatrics to psychiatry. In 1954, when Dr. Jonas Salk was developed the first successful vaccine to end the once endemic scourge of polio (a.k.a. infantile paralysis), Dr.Cohen was given one of the first batches of the vaccine to administer to his patients on a trial basis. "I don't know if he volunteered, or how it came about, but in 1954 they gave him the Salk vaccine to give to second-grade students for testing. And he gave the shots to my brother [Michael], who was in the second grade. He didn't give me the shots. I was in kindergarten. He had the vaccine, and he apparently thought about it and didn't give it to me. I don't know whether it was honor, a sense of responsibility, or whether it wasn't his issue - his purpose. Or I've also heard there was some concern that some people might get the polio from the vaccine. Maybe he was concerned, you know, what if that happened? I didn't know. But anyway, I got polio that fall. I was one of the last people to get it. And my father could have given me the vaccine. He didn't." One doesn't need an amateur psychologist's license to read in this the possible origin of some ambiguity towards authority and authority figures. "It didn't cause any stress between us," Cohen insists. "But it did cause my father a lot of angst. He goes on. "One good thing about polio: I've read this, that polio survivors tend to max themselves out, they tend to be over-achievers. " When he wears shorts, which is frequently around his house in the warm weather months, it is apparent that Cohen's left leg is thinned and attenuated from the ravages of his childhood disease. That didn't stop him, however, from playing football in high school -- at the position of center, no less, one which results in about as much hard banging as you can expect on a football field. As Dr. Cohen shifted jobs and specialties, he also shifted locales, from Memphis to Florida to California, back to Florida, and then back to Memphis. (“Stranger in a strange land, man without a country.," indeed.) One of the ways in which the young Steve Cohen connected with the shifting world about him was through the appurtenances of popular culture: sports, Top 40 music and politics. To go through Cohen's house on Kenilworth, adjoining Overton Park, is to walk through a theme park of the aforesaid personal artifacts. The button collection, for example, enchased here and there on his walls: There are campaign buttons for virtually every presidential campaign and every state political campaign of consequence, sports buttons, movie buttons. There are photographs of sports and music celebrities of every stripe, and photographs of Cohen with many of those selfsame celebrities. Notable among these is Orestes "Minnie" Minoso, the Chicago White Sox great from the '50s. When Steve Cohen was five years old, recuperating from the first ravages of polio and attending an exhibition game at Memphis' old Russwood Park, leaning on crutches, a White Sox player came over and handed him a ball, then pointed to Minoso, who was standing some distance away. "He wanted you to have this," the player said, and then explained that Minoso, a Latino black, was nervous about approaching a white child himself. "That was how it was in the '50s," Cohen remembers. "It gave me my first insight into the insanity of segregation." (It also, after the passage of some time, gave Cohen his email moniker, a variation on the name Minnie Minoso.)


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

    • Dark Ages Coming?

      The governmental future as seen by Congressman Cohen, who hints at a new leadership position for himself.
    • Trumped Expectations

      One major surprise colored the 2016 political year. One major surprise colored the 2016 political year.


Politics Beat Blog

Cohen Won't Attend Trump Inauguration

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

Music Video Monday: Valerie June

Beyond the Arc

Bulls 108, Grizzlies 104: A Game of Ghosts

Tiger Blue

Tigers 62, USF 56

Fly On The Wall Blog

Memphis Bound Gilbert Gottfried Talks Trump, TV, Life on the Road

Politics Beat Blog

Briefs from the Political Week

Politics Beat Blog

In The Age Of Trump, Remember The Killian Documents


More by Jackson Baker

  • Cohen Won't Attend Trump Inauguration

    Makes announcement at MLK commemoration at Mason Temple, tells Flyer that President-elect's insulting tweets about civil rights icon John Lewis were "the straw that broke the camel's back."
    • Jan 16, 2017
  • Briefs from the Political Week

    Rallings downplays homicide numbers; Commission prepares legislative package, includes medical marijuana, not in agreement yet on MLGW issue; Cohen gets new leadership post in Congress
    • Jan 13, 2017
  • Dark Ages Coming?

    The governmental future as seen by Congressman Cohen, who hints at a new leadership position for himself.
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Election 2015: The Mike Williams Factor

    Some think three’s already a crowd in the mayor’s race, but a fourth candidate insists there’s room for more.
    • Sep 3, 2015
  • Outliers and Insiders

    This year’s Memphis City Council races have plenty of both.
    • Jun 11, 2015
  • Politics or Government in Shelby County?

    It’s hard to tell the difference, as the Shelby County Commission and the Luttrell administration continue their power struggle.
    • Aug 27, 2015
© 1996-2017

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation