James.qxp Jan Feb 2019 web - Page 29



odney Mims Cook Jr.’s family goes back a
ways. All the way. His mother was a
descendent of the Sewell family who started out in America in a settlement called
Jamestown— literally as far back as you
can go. His Atlanta ties go back to the beginning of the
city. His great-great-grandfather, Azariah Mims, worked
to end the Civil War and his farm was burned by Gen.
William Sherman. Great-great uncle Livingston Mims was
mayor of Atlanta at the turn of the 20th century and was
among the first to ride a streetcar across the Peachtree
Street viaduct. Cook Jr.’s father was an Atlanta icon.
R
The Patriarch of the Family
28
JAMES
JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2019
Cook Sr. was one of the pivotal Atlanta leaders who
ushered the city from the segregation era into modern
times. He was an advisor to Mayors William B. Hartsfield
and Ivan Allen before being elected as an Atlanta alderman
in 1962. Outspoken during the civil rights movement, Cook
Sr. gave a famous speech in the Capitol to take down the
“Peyton Wall,” a barricade built to keep black residents from
moving into a white neighborhood. This speech earned
him and his family death threats and a cross burning on
their lawn from some men running around in white sheets.
Cook Jr. was five years old at the time and the experience
affected him greatly, barely talking for over a year.
Cook Sr. ran for the Georgia House of Representatives
in 1965 and was one of five white representatives who
voted to seat Julian Bond in the state legislature in 1966
after an attempt to block Bond based on his outspokenness
against the Vietnam War and likely his work in the civil
rights movement. Ultimately, Bond was seated by the U.S.
Supreme Court. “My family is forever grateful for Mr.
Cook’s bravery and righteous fervor in defense of my father
during a very frightening and difficult time,” said Atlanta
City Councilman Michael Julian Bond when Cook passed
away in 2013. “He possessed a type of courage that cannot
be taught but from which much can be learned. This city
is a better place because of Mr. Cook’s effort.”
Cook Sr. was close with Martin Luther King Jr. and
Andrew Young. “There were a number in his generation,
black and white, who quietly were the stewards of the
South during the second half of the 20th century. Some of
their meetings occurred in our home. Other cities were
turning hoses or dogs on their citizens or worse, were
The Millennium Gate Museum and its grounds are a popular event venue.
burning. This intentionally did not happen here and dad
and his generation rose to the occasion to solidify and
herald the Atlanta Way to the entire nation,” said Cook Jr.
Assuming the Mantle from His Father
The illustrious architecture and preservation career of
Cook Jr. began in the mid-1970’s when he was just a
teenager. The owners of the historic Fox Theatre were in
very late-stage talks to sell it to Southern Bell for a new
headquarters. The Cooks found out about it, along with
other prominent Atlanta families, and the younger Rodney
took it upon himself to help with the rescue efforts.
Spending time with Cook is like sitting down with an
Atlanta history book. The loss of historic buildings in
Atlanta is well-known but listening to Cook is a reminder
of just how much was lost during the “white flight” era of
migration away from the cities. As the city became a place
where people worked and drove into, rather than lived in,
buildings were torn down and replaced with parking lots.
Besides the Fox Theatre, Atlanta used to have a legitimate theatre district. There was the old Loew’s Grand
Theater, where a little movie called “Gone With the Wind”
premiered, but in that little jag of Peachtree Street there
was once a whole row of theaters, both movie and stage.
Cook wrote a book lamenting the loss of these theaters
and other structures of old Atlanta, Atlanta’s Parks and
Monuments. As Atlanta boomed, the old theaters were
JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2019
29

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