Russell "Russ" Cowans was born on July 29, 1899, in Centre, Alabama. His father was a farmer before moving his family to Chicago when Russ was four years old.
Russ Cowans served in World War I and later began his journalism career in Detroit in the early 1920s. He worked for several small black newspapers in Detroit to include the Detroit Owl, and the Detroit Peoples News. Cowans wrote several articles that were published in the Baltimore Afro-American, the Pittsburgh Courier, and the Chicago Defender before becoming a correspondent for them in 1929. He wrote a column about local Detroit news and covered sports for the Defender. By 1933, Cowans went to work for the Detroit Tribune where he wrote a weekly column covering various local sports before leaving to become a sports editor for the Detroit Guardian.
In 1935, Russ Cowans became Joe Louis's private tutor and personal secretary for two years. In 1937, he returned to the Detroit Tribune where he was city editor, a sports reporter, and a special events photographer before eventually becoming the managing editor.
Russ Cowans was appointed to the Michigan Boxing Commission in 1943 by Governor Harry Kelly and re-appointed in 1947 by Governor Kim Sigler.
In 1945, Russ was briefly married to golfer Thelma Cowans and in 1951 he began a regular golf column called "Down the Fairway" in the Chicago Defender. By 1946, he and a group of black reporters and columnists from various publications formed the Motor City Press Club. The purpose of the club was to allow members to socialize, hone their craft by having seasoned journalists as guest speakers, and to perform community service.
By 1948, Russ Cowans was one of a handful of black sports journalist who traveled to London to cover the Olympics. The next year, Cowans left Detroit to become the sports editor for the Chicago Defender. Cowan would eventually come back to Detroit and work for the Michigan Chronicle before retiring in 1964. In 1962, he was honored by Brewster Old Timers, Inc. for his many years of service, for his advocacy of black athletes and youth, and for his work with charities.
Russ Cowan over the years earned the title as the "Dean of Black Sportswriters" and was called "The Sage of St. Antoine" due to his knowledge about sports. On December 20, 1978, Russ Cowans died in Detroit. After his death, a former colleague who considered Cowan a role model for the black press stated, "...there will never be another Russell Cowans, for it was he who blazed the trail and set the standard of achievement for those who follow him."