History of the Restoration Movement

William Clarence Cooke


The Life Of W. Clarence Cooke

William Clarence Cooke was born in Lewisburg, Marshall County, Tennessee on July 3, 1891. He was the son of Basil Manley Cooke (1867-1905) and Medora Octavine “Octa” Willis (1869-1957). He was the oldest of five siblings, three boys and two girls. Growing up on the farm, he learned early the value of hard labor. At the age of fourteen, his father passed away, leaving much responsibility on his shoulders. The following year he obeyed the gospel at the hands of Will Spivey at Beach Grove church of Christ near Yell, Tennessee. He was married to Rubye Jane Hardison (1898-1979) of Maury County, Tennessee on April 23, 1916. The couple gave birth to six children.

Clarence had a natural inclination for music. He studied music, and became a teacher of music. But, his strength was soon seen in his ability to lead singing for worship. Many times during the years of his ministry, he led singing for some of the finest evangelists known in his day in time.

However, his love for music gave way to his preferred focus in ministry, and that was preaching the gospel of Jesus. He began preaching at the age of twenty-four at the old Philadelphia church in Maury County, Tennessee. He soon preached at other churches in the county like Antioch, Smyrna, and at Old Lasea.

By 1920, he fully involved inpreaching and directing singing schools. He was preaching for the church in Lewisburg, Tennessee. In November of that year he moved to Tracey City, Tennessee. By 1923 he was living and working in Covington, Tennessee.

Clarence was so convinced of the truth of the gospel of Christ that he was willing to defend it anywhere, anytime. He was involved in a debate with a Mr. W. S. Ervin, a Separate Baptist at County Line, Tennessee on November 3-6, 1925. The discussion was on four different subjects including, when the church was established, baptism, apostasy, and the Holy Spirit. Reports appeared in the Gospel Advocate. (GA 12.03.1925, p.1172)

In 1926, he moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee where he worked with the East Chattanooga church of Christ. The following year, he was preaching for another congregation in the city, the Ridgedale church of Christ. While at Ridgedale he organized a debate between the editor of the Gospel Advocate, Foy E. Wallace, Jr. and Charles M. Neal on the subject of Premillennialism. The two had already met in January 1933 in Winchester, Kentucky. The Neal-Wallace Discussion was stenographically recorded and later that year, published by the Gospel Advocate Company. However, at the end of that initial debate, it was reported that C. M. Neal had issued a challenge to anyone who would debate him on the millennial reign of Christ. This led Cooke and the brethren at Ridgedale to organize another discussion, this time in southern Tennessee. The debate took place June 6-9, 1933 in the Central High School auditorium, which seated up to 1200 people, and was well attended. An extensive report of the success of the debate was sent in to the Gospel Advocate from the hand of W. Clarence Cooke. (GA 07.27.1933, p.709) A great friendship between he and brother Wallace ensued, and it became his joy from time to time to lead singing in gospel meetings for the senior preacher.

The previous year Clarence participated in a debate in Fosterville, Tennessee with a Missionary Baptist preacher by the name of W. W. Crouch. It was held beginning on Monday night June 13, 1932 in the local high school building. It was closed on the following Friday at noon. The topics for the debate were Baptism, The Holy Spirit, and Apostasy. There was reportedly a fourth proposition where the Baptist proposed that the Baptist church was established during the public ministry of Jesus, but was unable to say for sure when it happened. In 1933, he conducted a debate with Seventh-Day Adventist by the name of R. S. Wilson. The discussion took place in Ashville, Alabama.

Beginning the first Sunday in August, 1934 the family moved to Cookeville, Tennessee where Clarence preached for the old Broad Street church of Christ. While in Cookeville, he began a weekly radio broadcast on WHUB each Sunday from 5:30 pm to 6:00 pm.

In January 1937, N. B. Hardeman began a Preacher Special Courses Series on the campus of Freed-Hardeman College. This series later grew into what is now the annual Freed-Hardeman University Lectures. H. Leo Boles headed the list of speakers to come to the campus. Over the next few years others who joined in the annual event included a veritable who’s who among biblical scholars like B. C. Goodpasture, John T. Lewis, Gus Nichols, B. L. Douthitt, C.D. Plum, G. A. Dunn and W. Clarence Cooke.

In the March 9th, 1939 edition of the Gospel Advocate, twelve men were listed as making up the editorial committee advising editor, B. C. Goodpasture. Under the title, Policy Of The Gospel Advocate, the work of this group was to meet with the editor occasionally to discuss the work of the journal to determine if it was maintaining its purpose. L. L. Brigance, Henderson, Tenn.; H. Leo Boles, Nashville, Tenn.; C. L. Overturf, Lebanon, Tenn.; A. R. Hill, Shelbyville, Tenn.; C. C. Burns, Florence, Ala.; J. M. Powell, Louisville, Ky.; J. Leonard Jackson, Franklin, Tenn; B. L. Douthitt, Nashville, Tenn.; E. R. Harper, Little Rock, Ark.; C. D. Plum, Wheeling, W. Va.; Allen Phy, Glasgow, Ky.; and Clarence Cooke, Cookeville, Tenn. From this most impressive list, one can easily see the level of confidence brother Cooke had attained among leaders in the Restoration Movement. (GA, 03.09.1930.p.220) In a later issue Floyd A. Decker reported on an extended meeting in Cookeville. Informing on the success of the meeting he said, “W. Clarence Cooke, is esteemed highly by all. I have never worked with a preacher more anxious to serve God or more willing to cooperate with any righteous effort.

Brother Cooke was featured in the April 11, 1940 issue of the Advocate with a brief overview of his life and included a sermon outline entitled, “The Baptism Of The Holy Spirit.) (GA, 04.11.1940.p.347) (disclosed below)

At the end of 1942 the family moved to Denver, Colorado to begin working with the Sherman Street church of Christ.

In March 1943, brother Cooke began editing a brotherhood paper, The Gospel Digest. It was in a magazine format. Each issues had twenty-four pages, and sold for an annual subscription price of $1.00. It was filled with articles written by leading ministers among churches of Christ. Also great articles of the past were reprinted in the magazine. The paper was conducted until his death. Afterwards, it was taken over by Marion Davis of Fayette, Alabama and continued for a short time.

In 1945, the family moved to Daytona Beach, Florida to work with the South West church of Christ. After a couple years, they moved down to Miami where Clarence preached for the church in that city.

In the July 10, 1947 issue of the Advocate, the brotherhood was shocked to hear the following, "W. Clarence Cooke passes. News reached Nashville about noon, Monday, July 7, of the passing of W. Clarence Cooke, of Miami, Fla. His passing was sudden, according to the information received here. He was enroute from his home in Miami to Lewisburg, Tenn., to begin a meeting last Sunday morning, July 6. He suffered a heart attack at or near Birmingham, Ala. probably on Saturday, and passed some time Monday morning. It was also learned that the body was to be shipped to Cookeville, Tenn., for burial, Tuesday afternoon. Arrangements had not been completed at the time of going to press. Brother Cooke preached for a number of years for the church at Cookeville, and had many close friends there. After leaving the Cookeville Church, he spent a few years in Denver, Colo., and has since been in Miami, Fla. Tuesday morning: B. C. Goodpasture, editor of the Gospel Advocate will conduct the funeral service from the church at Cookeville at 4 P.M. today." (page 496--included below). 

-Scott Harp, 03.29.2021

Sources: Apostolic Times, September 1932, page 134-135; Ancestry.com; FindAGrave.com; several issues of the Gospel Advocate

Chattanooga Daily Times, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Saturday, May 28, 1932
Click on picture to zoom in

Gospel Advocate, April 11, 1940, page 347

The Miami Herald, Miami, Florida
Saturday, August 31, 1946, page 10

News Of The Passing Of A Highly Respected Preacher

Gospel Advocate, 07.10.1947, page 496

Newspaper Obituary

The Miami News, Miami, Florida
Wednesday, July 9, 1947, page 16

Directions To The Graves

Clarence and Rubye Cooke are buried in the Cookeville City Cemetery in Cookeville, Tennessee. In East Tennessee take I-40 to Cookeville. Take exit 286, and head north into town on S. Willow St. (Hwy. 135). Turn right in town on W. Spring Street (Hwy. 70N/24). Just across Scott Avenue, the cemetery will be on your right. Enter the first entrance to the cemetery and proceed down the drive to the bottom of the hill. You will pass the third drive on your left, and then begin looking to the right for the monument designated COOKE. See map below for the exact GPS location of the grave in the cemetery. While here be sure and visit the other preachers buried here, Malcolm Hill, J. S. Holloway, and J. D. Walling.

GPS Location
36°09'35.8"N 85°30'36.8"W
or D.d. 36.159936,-85.510217

Note the Cooke plot as well as the plots of other Gospel Preachers buried in Cookeville Cemetery

Rubye H. Cooke
April 28, 1898 - June 19, 1979

William Clarence Cooke
July 3, 1891 - July 7, 1947

Photos Taken 08.09.2016
Webpage produced 03.30.2021
Courtesy Of Scott Harp


Master Index Page