Atlanta place names: Reconciling past events, future dreams amid the present
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.
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.
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:
- “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.”
- “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.
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.