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Atlanta place names: Reconciling past events, future dreams amid the present

David Pendered
Cook Park A rendering of the Rodney Cook Sr. Park in Historic Vine City, with a view of new Mercedes-Benz Stadium and part of downtown (Special: Trust for Public Land)

By David Pendered

This week’s 55th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act is marked in Atlanta with debates that involve some types of complexities that arose during its passage and enactment.

Cook Park

A rendering of the Rodney Cook Sr. Park in Historic Vine City, with a view of new Mercedes-Benz Stadium and part of downtown (Special: Trust for Public Land)

Leaders of the civil rights movement urge a park in a blighted black neighborhood be named for a (deceased) wealthy, white politician from Buckhead. Fans of hip hop question the potential removal from a MARTA rail station the name of an Alabama-born Confederate Army captain.

The complexities of each situation are numerous, and familiar.

The challenge is to reconcile the past with the future amid the turbulence of the present.

These types of issues swirled around the debate over the legislation that became the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

To cite just one example, the state’s famed former senator, Richard B. Russell Jr., was the only opponent of the Civil Rights Act who – subsequent to its passage – “urged compliance and counseled against any violence or forcible resistance,” according to a report by georgiaencyclopedia.org.

This view is diametrically opposed to one Russell had proclaimed during his part of a filibuster he had coordinated with other Southern senators to fight the bill on the floor of the Senate. In a widely cited comment, Russell is quoted:

  • “We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races in our [Southern] states.”

The situation at a future park in Vine City, near Mercedes Benz Stadium, centers on a white politician for whom the park is named – Rodney Cook, Sr. Park at Historic Vine City. Cook is remembered as a progressive in the 1960s by Andrew Young, Maynard Jackson III, and the father of Atlanta City Councilmember Ivory Lee Young, Jr., who represented the area until he died in office last year.

The three men sent letters to the council to mark their opposition to efforts to remove Cook’s name from the park. An effort to do that is being led by Atlanta Councilmember Antonio Brown, who was elected to fulfill the unexpired term of the deceased councilmember.

The letters can be viewed here: – Andrew Young; Maynard Jackson III, son of the former mayor; and Ivory Lee Young, Sr., father of the former councilmember.

Former Atlanta Alderman Rodney Mims Cook, Sr. and Atlanta Councilperson Michael Julian Bond. File/Credit: Michael Julian Bond

Brown introduced legislation that would form a task force to consider a new name the park; Brown stopped short of calling for a new name. Critics of the naming of the park for Cook include civil rights leader Joe Beasley, who suggested naming the park for the late councilmember, Young.

Brown was unable to get his intact proposal through a council committee last week. The result of the compromise is evident in the new name of the paper. On Monday, the Atlanta City Council was slated to vote on Brown’s proposal. Beasley and others have said they will not drop their efforts to rename the park.

Here are the titles of Brown’s resolutions:

Original:

  • “A resolution by Councilmember Antonio Brown establishing a Cook Park Task Force charged with considering a new name for the Rodney Cooke [sic] Sr. Park and to create a memorial commemorating Vine City residents impacted by the historic 2002 floods’ and for other purposes.”

As amended:

  • “A resolution to establish a task force to engage the community in a conversation on the name of Rodney Cook, Sr. Park and other concerns of the community, and for other purposes.”

One committee member voted against the amendment as a statement of opposition to any effort to remove Cook’s name – Councilmember Michael Julian Bond. Bond has an intensely personal connection to Cook.

Cook fought in the state Legislature on behalf of the right of Bond’s father, Julian Bond, to be seated in the state House when lawmakers refused to recognize that right following his 1966 election to the chamber. Lawmakers disagreed with Julian Bond’s views on civil rights, the Vietnam War, and other issues. Bond went to court and he was seated in 1967 under a ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The issue at MARTA’s Bankhead Station involves the real-time issue of the legacy of the neighborhood’s hip hop roots. MARTA is open to renaming the station.

John Bankhead (Credit: fhwa.dot.gov)

For starters, there’s cache in the Bankhead name. For $80 a seat, “Hip Hop Tours of Atlanta: Buckhead to Bankhead” offers a guided bus tour. Bankhead has its own definition in urbandictionary.com. Youtube.com has multiple videos claiming connections to a dance named Bankhead Bounce, including one by Atlanta’s Ying Yang Twins, who peaked in the mid 2000s and are reported to be on part of a reunion tour this year.

One blogger, demonta4, urged keeping the name Bankhead in a June 29 post on a city-data.com thread:

  • “Bankhead (it’s gonna take a lot to convince me that wiping out Atlanta’s hip hop history isn’t worth keeping a name that is named after a confederate no one even remembers today.”

That confederate is former Capt. John Hollis Bankhead, who was recognized with the naming of the Bankhead MARTA rail station. Evidently the station was named Bankhead to reflect the former name of the road in front of the station, Bankhead Highway.

Bankhead was honored not as a confederate officer, but as the creator in Congress of legislation that allowed for construction of interstate highways through joint funding by states and the federal government. Bankhead Highway connects Washington, D.C. with San Diego and was so named to recognize the “Father of Good Roads in the U.S. Senate,” according to a report by U.S. Department of Transportation.

Forty years after Bankhead’s legislative success, the Federal Highway Act of 1956 was passed and was renamed in 1990 to honor it staunch advocate, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, as the Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways.

 

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David Pendered
David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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7 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Rick July 2, 2019 10:53 am

    The name of the Park should remain the same. Rodney Cook Sr. seemed like a decent man and he stood up fro AA’s in this city when it was unpopular to do so. Had he been a segregationist I would support the change, but he was not.Report

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Carrie M Salvary July 2, 2019 5:19 pm

    I agree that Mr. Rodney M. Cook, Sr. was a decent human being and did some things to assist certain individuals in the Civil Rights era. I just don’t agree with his name on a park in Vine City. I think there should be a park in Buckhead honoring his contributions.
    Imagine the Fredrick Douglass Memorial Park in Buckhead or Inman Park. I wonder if we are that evolved?Report

    Reply
    1. Avatar
      Greg Hodges July 3, 2019 12:24 am

      Not sure a Douglas statue would cause a problem in Buckhead….but wasn’t Inman Park named after a man who had served as a Confederate Army officer ?
      His name is even on a MARTA station…is that station also up for renaming ?Report

      Reply
  3. Avatar
    ATLBooster July 3, 2019 7:21 pm

    America can’t figure out how to celebrate Columbus, let alone people caught in the issues of their day that they didn’t create. Other countries, like say Russia, laugh all the way to the polls as they can’t believe how lost “freedom” has made Americans. For 5-10 thousand years we’ve lived a certain way, in the last 50 years we’ve decided to upend much of it. We’ll see what happens next. Bankhead doesn’t stand a chance in this version of America, that much of the world laughs at.Report

    Reply
    1. Avatar
      Greg Hodges July 4, 2019 3:52 pm

      Amen. There were even calls not long ago to yank down the statue in NYC’s Columbus Circle….. it will probably happen, Both John Bankhead and Samuel Inman were lower echelon (company grade) soldiers during the Civil War. Inman became a cotton and railroad businessman, and his name was given to an early Atlanta neighborhood by his real estate partner, Joel Hurt. As Mr Pendered notes, Bankhead was honored with the highway naming due to his pressing congress to appropriate funding for the nation’s early highway system…..NOT for anything related to rather nondescript military service. Similar situation for Inman, but one wonders why the brain trust at MARTA is seemingly fine with retaining Inman’s name on an eastside MARTA station……but is considering pulling down Bankhead’s name on another station. BOTH had been Confederate soldiers …treat their legacy the same. (Pssss….don’t let the history scrubbers know it, but there are two very prominate statues of ex-Confederate soldiers that are viewed by thousands of passersby each day at 121 Baker Street, and at 1200 Peachtree St.
      How long they will remain there is anyone’s guess.)Report

      Reply
  4. Avatar
    P.S. Wallace July 4, 2019 4:10 pm

    Well, once again, an Atlanta brain trust proves that no good deed goes untarnished.Report

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    Chap July 6, 2019 8:50 am

    Name the new park at the Bellwood Quarry after Cook Sr. Change the name of the current Cook park to be more inclusive of the English Ave residents. We anticipate the area changing racially, it is the least that can be done.Report

    Reply

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