To the editor:
Given the recent developments in our nation and our region, it would seem to be a good time to think about re-naming T.C. Williams High School, given the unabashed racist who bore that name.
For those concerned about the legacy of the football team, the mascot name should remain “The Titans.” A name change in itself brings challenges as there are many Alexandrians, male and female, worthy of the honor. I would like to add one name of an individual into consideration that has not heretofore received the attention he deserves: The Rev. Fields Cook.
Cook was the first pastor of Alexandria’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, currently the spiritual home of many of the city’s best-known citizens, a leader of the black community here and earlier in Richmond, and a tireless civil rights activist. Born a slave, by 1850 he had bought his freedom and was running a restaurant in a Richmond hotel.
After the Civil War, Cook was ordained a Baptist minister and led protests against abuses to freed blacks at the hands of Richmond municipal police and federal troops. Committed to racial equality, he was one of five African-American men appointed to the grand jury that indicted Jefferson Davis.
Cook also represented Richmond in the first state convention of African Americans, one that met in Alexandria. He was named a vice president and asked to write the convention’s address to the public.
In 1869, Cook attended the National Convention of the Colored Men of America in the District of Columbia and was elected to the national executive committee. Later the same year, he was elected as a delegate to the Colored National Labor Union that also met in D.C.
In 1870, Cook and his wife moved to Alexandria where he initially worked as an agent for the local Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company bank. After serving for a time as pastor of the Alexandria’s Third Baptist Church, Cook became founding pastor of Ebenezer Baptist, a post he held until his death in January 1897, at age 77. He is buried in Alexandria’s Bethel Cemetery.
There is much more to be learned about this outstanding American leader, whose reputation unfortunately has faded in time. Surely Fields Cook is a name that should be among those considered to replace T. C. Williams.
-Jack Sullivan, Alexandria