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Taking the High Road

The downtown connector that joins Interstates 75 and 85 at midtown Atlanta and runs south to Hartsfield International Airport has been officially named after one of the city’s most influential citizens, Rodney Mims Cook, Washington and Lee Class of 1946.

Cook, who died in January 2013, was a World War II veteran and graduated from W&L as valedictorian of his class. He also belonged to ODK. He began his involvement in local, state and national politics in the late 1950s. As noted in his obit in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “He played a key role in Atlanta’s development during the pivotal decade of the 1960s as the city grew from a regional center to an international city. At that time, there were few Republicans in the Deep South, and he also became an important figure in the growth of the two-party system in Georgia.” The obit continues, ” battled with the State Highway Department over the many long delays in completing the Downtown Connector … and worked to remove the Peyton Road barricade, a wood and steel wall constructed in 1962 to restrict African American access to a white neighborhood in southwest Atlanta.”

His son Rodney, W&L Class of ’78, said a number of factors played a role in naming the downtown connector after his father. “He was in charge of building it from both his state and city positions, and he was a noted civil rights advocate.” The first Republican elected in Georgia since Reconstruction, “he was known to have quietly choreographed peaceful race relations in Atlanta through some of the most turbulent times in United States history, working with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Sen. Julian Bond and others. As a result, we had numerous bomb threats and kidnapping threats during my childhood, and the KKK burned a cross in our front yard when I was 6. The downtown connector symbolically represents his joining of the races in peace and friendship.”

The Rodney Cook Road was formally dedicated over the summer, and Gov. Nathan Deal offered his salutations to the committee and family members in attendance in a letter that read in part: “Mr. Cook played a vital role in the State of Georgia while serving as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives and the Atlanta City Council. He demonstrated a continued commitment to the wellbeing of our nation, state and its citizens throughout his life. … It is my hope that the memorialization of this highway will afford future generations the opportunity to know of and appreciate Mr. Cook just as those of us who knew him personally do.”