Planned Rodney Cook Sr. park hitting bumps in final stages of formation

By David Pendered

A bit of push-back is emerging around the planned Rodney Cook Sr. Park in Historic Vine City. One Atlanta resident said Tuesday at a public hearing the name marks it as Confederate memorial park. On Wednesday, the Atlanta City Council’s Finance Committee voted to delay action on a proposal to condemn six parcels of land needed to make the park as it’s currently envisioned.

An array of statuary is planned in the future Rodney Cook Sr. Park in Historic Vine City. Credit: facebook.com/RodneyCookSrPark

The controversy doesn’t give any indication that it will deter the city’s plans to build and name the park on the site west of the Mercedes Benz Stadium. The city council voted in 2012 to create a park in this area, and the park has a plethora of private partners.

In the past two days, however, wrinkles have appeared in these final stages of the park’s formation.

On Tuesday, an Atlanta resident voiced concern about the name of the park. This came during a council committee’s public hearing on the proposed renaming of Confederate Avenue to United Avenue. The speaker, James Coleman, didn’t have all the facts correct. But his comments showed how deeply names resonate among the grassroots of the city’s neighborhoods.

“Right now, you’ve got a Confederate park being built right in front of Martin Luther King Jr.’s house, just a few feet from it,” Coleman said. “General Rodney Mims Cook – when he walked the earth, a Negro wasn’t even considered a human being. This is how bad it is, and people want to keep this in our culture, our heritage. Let it go away. This is a new era.”

Coleman was partly correct in the name of the planned park. Not so much on the location being near King’s home, on Sunset Avenue.

Nonetheless, at one point, the park was to be named for Livingston Mims, a former Atlanta mayor and former general in the Confederate army. However, the name was changed as word of Mims’ role in the Confederacy percolated through constituents.

James Coleman, Confederate names

Atlanta resident James Coleman expressed concerns about the family heritage being honored by the planned Rodney Cook Sr. Park in Historic Vine City. Credit: Atlanta

A compromise called for the park to be named for a prominent heir of Livingston Mims who also had served the city in elected office – Rodney Mims Cook, Sr. Cook did not serve in the Confederate army and, rather, had accumulated a lengthy record on Civil Rights, including a vote in the state House to seat legally elected Rep. Julian Bond, who was blocked for his views on the Vietnam War, according to Cook’s obituary.

Overlooked in this entire discussion is a tidbit unearthed about another civic donation by the Livingston Mims’ family. This one was unearthed during the city’s consideration of what to with Confederate remembrances such as Confederate Avenue.

Livingston Mims’ widow provided the money to create and install a bust of a notable, dead Confederate soldier to be erected in Piedmont Park. The bust recognized Sidney Lanier, a beloved Georgia poet, and the memorial now is held by his alma mater, Oglethorpe University. The bust in Piedmont Park is a replica.

On Wednesday, the council’s Finance Committee voted unanimously to defer action on a proposal to condemn six parcels of land for Mims park.

The vote came after the committee had voted to deliberate in private. The meeting with city attorneys and others lasted about 55 minutes. Committee Chair Howard Shook noted before and after the executive session the purpose was to discuss legal and real estate matters – which public bodies in Georgia are allowed to discuss out of the public eye.

Andrea Boone

Andrea Boone

Councilmember Andrea Boone raised repeated questions before the executive session about why the city needed these particular parcels in order to develop a park of about 16 acres.

“It seems to be that we should be able to build this park without bothering our residents,” Boone said.

Parks Commissioner Amy Phuong responded that the site plan was devised with these parcels included in the park. The park also is to help manage stormwater runoff, and these sites may be required for that aspect of the park, Phuong indicated.

Boone said she would like to see the shape of the park if three parcels were removed from the planned condemnation process.

Johnna Goodmark, a city attorney, said a map that responded to Boone’s request was available. But it could not be displayed immediately because some information was confidential. At that point, Councilmember Matt Westmoreland made a motion for executive session, the motion was approved, and the committee left the room to continue its discussions elsewhere.

Upon returning to public session, the committee voted unanimously to hold the legislation for further consideration.

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. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

5 replies
  1. Drew Henley says:

    “Not so much on the location being near King’s home, on Sunset Avenue.” This is a bit of a stretch for you to criticize Mr. Coleman. The King family home is literally 2 blocks from the proposed park. You will be able to see if from their front porch.Report

    Reply
  2. Drew Henley says:

    Also, it just makes no sense to name it after anyone in the Cook family line. There are so many incredible Civil Rights leaders from this community to choose from…why not honor them?Report

    Reply
  3. Carrie Salvary says:

    There are several remaining concerns surrounding the naming of the park.

    The naming of the park generated much public discussion and back room political orchestration. I must say that the back room political orchestration won.

    As a resident of Vine City and a woman of African and probable native descent, I have grave concerns regarding the 80 foot column honoring Tomachechee, the Creek Nation Leader who betrayed his nation by welcoming the settlers to the land we now know as Georgia. The result being that the people of the Creek Nation were eventually rounded up and forced off their land joining other Native Nations in the Trail of Tears.

    I understand that the planners of Column is including space in the bottom the Column to house the Library of Rev. CT Vivian, who I have the highest respect for his contribution in civil and human rights. However, a monument to Tomachechee in the Vine City neighborhood represents to me the manifestation of the modern day Trail of Tears as many long term renters in Vine City can no longer afford to live in the neighborhood as the rents have escalated exponentially, forcing them to move while their lives and the children’s educational lives are being disrupted.

    Additionally, a monument to Tomachechee does a grave injustice to the work of Rev. C.T. Vivian as well as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. as they were freedom fighters for their people and Tomachechee was a betrayer to his people. It is incomprehensible to me how they can occupy the same space. The park should have been named the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Park.

    Many will respond to my post representing all the wonderful things that are happening for neighborhood residents in this period of transition and transformation. It is undeniable that there some positive developments in the neighborhood, namely a property tax relief fund, the renovation of a few homes for residents, financial contributions toward excellence in education for elementary and middle school students and last but not least, tremendous support from the Foundation Community toward the development of the park.

    However, I sometimes wonder if the well meaning contributors who are investing in the positive change in the neighborhood realize they are also contributing toward a sort of Trail of Tears for residents who are being displaced never to return to the land now known as Vine City.Report

    Reply
  4. jay scott says:

    the idea of condemning the properties in question is just wrong. I am all for the park, and i believe condemnation can be a vehicle to use for the public good, but some of these people have lived there for a long time, and have suffered through years of neglect by the city. now the city is finally investing major money in the area and they want to take away their opportunity to benefit from it just because someone drew a plan of the park with their lots included? If the lots are indeed needed for the park, they should compensated enough so they can relocate in a similar house overlooking the park. fair is fair.Report

    Reply
  5. Ebony says:

    All the renderings I’ve seen of the park have NOT included those 3 parcels in question. Does anyone have a link to an updated rendering, with plans that include those 3 parcels?Report

    Reply

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