Civil rights icon John Lewis is among multiple leaders to have a statue created in their honor to adorn Atlanta’s Rodney Cook Sr. Park. The Fisk University and American Baptist College graduate left a legacy of grit and inspiration, and now the new article below by Ernie Suggs at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is sharing the impact the statue had on his family and allies.
The Lewis brothers, as they generally are, were quiet.
Samuel and Henry Lewis, the younger brothers of the late John Lewis, just watched as dozens of people, including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Ambassador Andrew Young, scrambled to get their photos taken in front of a massive statue of the congressman that harkened the opening of the new Rodney Cook Sr. Park in Vine City.
“All I can say is wow,” Henry Lewis finally said, looking at the crowd and then the statue.
Watching his brother search for words, Samuel Lewis, wearing a “Good Trouble” hat, asked Henry Lewis what their father, Eddie, a sharecropper who in 1944 took $300 in savings and purchased 110 acres of Alabama dirt to make a home for his family, would say at this moment.
“That’s my boy,” Henry Lewis said.
“Yes,” agreed Samuel. “That’s my boy.”
Just 10 days before the one-year anniversary of the passing of John Lewis, another rung to his legacy was filled with the unveiling of his statue at the new 16-acre Cook Park in Atlanta’s Westside on Wednesday.
The city of Atlanta, the Trust for Public Land, and the National Monuments Foundation developed the park just west of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They hope it revitalizes the struggling but improving Vine City neighborhood by providing a clean and safe outdoor space.
Mayor Bottoms said the park is the first one in Neighborhood Planning Unit-Q and helps get her closer to her goal of having a park within a 10-minute walk of every Atlantan.
“There has always been a richness of community here,” Bottoms said. “And I was blown away by the beauty of this park. It is one thing to see it on paper and another to see it in person.”
George Dusenbury, southern hub director for the Trust for Public Land, called it “the most beautiful park in Atlanta.”
In it, a series of water fountains and a linear pond serve as the park’s major visual features.
The park will include a library to house C.T. Vivian’s 12,000 volumes on civil rights and African American history.
It will be ringed with 18 bronze statues, plaques and monuments dedicated to peacemakers with ties to Georgia, including Young, Vivian, Julian Bond and Martin Luther King Jr., whose last home is only two blocks from the park.
“What this represents is a heritage of peace and reconciliation,” said Young, the former mayor of Atlanta. “We conceived this as a peace park, where we can come and be in peace together. And I have never been to a park like this.”
But hidden among the playground, the workout equipment, basketball courts and geese that have taken residence in the park is an intricate stormwater control system for an area prone to severe flooding.
The system is expected to capture about 37 million gallons of stormwater per year from the surrounding neighborhood.
The park is named after Rodney Mims Cook Sr., an Atlanta alderman and state legislator who pushed for civil rights in the 1960s. His son, Rodney Cook Jr., the founder of the National Monuments Foundation, is spearheading the efforts to get monuments, like the Lewis statue, placed in the park.
The 7-foot Lewis statue, created by sculptor Gregory Johnson, stands on a 7-foot pedestal facing the city.
The next installation will be a statue of Chief Tomochichi, who was credited with mediating peace between Georgia’s native population and British colonialists. It is already complete and awaiting a pedestal.
At the end of Wednesday’s formal ceremony, the Lewis brothers joined the mayor and other dignitaries for the ceremonial cutting of the ribbon to open the park and christen the statue. They were joined by their nephew Adolph Lewis Jr., the son of the late Adolph Lewis, the legendary brother who did all of the future congressman’s chores as a child, so Lewis could read.
“My grandfather Eddie made sure that our family was really close,” Adolph Lewis said. “So when I look at that statue, I just see pride. It just warms my heart to know that I’m part of this family.”