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Dr. Henry L. Cook

Highly regarded as a businessman and community leader, dentist Dr. Henry Lee Cook, Sr. was born on September 7, 1939 in Macon, Georgia. He earned a B. S. degree in Biology from Tuskegee University in 1962.

Cook served in the United States Air Force as a First Lieutenant from 1962 to 1965. He was married, in 1964, to the former Mamie Richmond and they have been married for the past 38 years. In 1965, Cook traveled to Nashville, Tennessee and earned a D. D. S. from Meharry Medical College in 1969. Setting up private practice as a dentist in Columbus, Georgia, Cook practiced dentistry successfully for 32 years. In 1976, he built the Martin Luther King, Jr. Shopping Center in Columbus' black community, which included an ultra-modern dental office.

Throughout his career, Cook has been involved in a variety of professional and civic organizations. His affiliations include: the American College of Dentistry, the Pierre Fauchard Academy, the National Dental Association, the Georgia Dental Association, the Western District Dental Society, and the State Health Strategies Council. He is the former chairman of the board of the Columbus Technical Foundation, the Columbus Technical Institute and the A. J. McClung Y. M. C. A. Cook is currently chairman of the Minority Assistance Corporation, the Columbus Business Development Center and the Supervisory Board of Personal Review. Among his many awards, Cook is the recipient of the Georgia Dental Society's highest honor, the Dr. J. E. Carter Award and the Civil Rights Award from the National Dental Association. Both of his children, Henry and Cathy are dentists.

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Hazel Street Elementary School

Byron Elementary School

Fort Valley High School

Tuskegee University

Meharry Medical College

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Favorite Vacation Destination

Las Vegas, Nevada

Favorite Quote

To whom much is given, much is required.

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Favorite Food

Chicken, Yams (Candied)

Short Description

Civil rights activist and dentist Dr. Henry L. Cook (1939 - ) was the former President of Georgia Dental Association and the recipient of the Georgia Dental Society's highest honor, the Dr. J. E. Carter Award. Dr. Cook was also awarded the Civil Rights Award from the National Dental Association.


United States Air Force

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Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Henry Cook's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Henry Cook lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Henry Cook talks about his family's history

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Henry Cook shares memories of his parents

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Henry Cook describes in his grandparents' home

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Henry Cook describes the teacher, Elizabeth Richmond, who became his adopted mother

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Henry Cook describes his childhood personality and activities

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Henry Cook talks about moving away from home in order to attend high school in Fort Valley, Georgia

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Henry Cook talks about his high school experiences and his siblings' lack of educational opportunity

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Henry Cook describes the support he received to attend Tuskegee Institute

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Henry Cook describes the sights, smells, and sounds of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Henry Cook describes his love of reading as a child

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Henry Cook talks about his decision to major in engineering at Tuskegee Institute

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Henry Cook talks about HistoryMaker Robert Church, a father figure in his life

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Henry Cook describes his desire to please authority figures and an unforgettable lesson about lying

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Henry Cook reflects upon his high school experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Henry Cook talks about his decision to major in biology at Tuskegee Institute

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Henry Cook describes his experience at Tuskegee Institute

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Henry Cook talks about the gerrymandering in Tuskegee, Alabama, and his experience of racial discrimination

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Henry Cook describes how the ROTC inspired him to join the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Henry Cook talks about his service in the U.S. Air Force and why he left the military

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Henry Cook describes his grandparents' deaths

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Henry Cook talks about his decision to attend Meharry Medical College

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Henry Cook talks about his first year at Meharry Medical College

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Henry Cook talks about his choice of dentistry and his involvement in professional dental organizations

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Henry Cook describes how he got his start practicing dentistry in Columbus, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Henry Cook talks about setting up his dental practice and building his own office

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Henry Cook explains why medicine and law are intimidating fields for African American youth

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Henry Cook talks about the importance of mentorship to academic success

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Henry Cook talks about his children and how he made sure they saw examples of successful black and female professionals

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Henry Cook describes changes in healthcare access for African Americans and his work with indigent patients

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Henry Cook talks about his wife's role in building his dental office

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Henry Cook talks about impact of managed care on physicians and dentists

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Henry Cook talks about Meharry Medical College, Howard University, and Morehouse School of Medicine, important educators of African American medical providers

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Henry Cook talks about Meharry Medical College's contributions to dentistry

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Henry Cook describes how he gives back to his family and his community

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Henry Cook talks about his grandmother, Dora Jackson

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Henry Cook reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Henry Cook narrates his photographs







Henry Cook describes how he got his start practicing dentistry in Columbus, Georgia
Henry Cook talks about setting up his dental practice and building his own office
So how does the practice bring you back to Columbus, Georgia?$$I was--had graduated, doing my internship with a desire to move to Atlanta [Georgia], which was my lifelong goal, just live in Atlanta, the big city, bright lights. You know everything happens in Atlanta. The girls are prettier in Atlanta they told me (laughter). Went to Atlanta to make an assessment to find out, you know, my--if the, the building that I was gonna lease would kind of blew me out in terms of what it would cost me. I made an assessment of my equipment that I needed. It just blew my mind again. I needed a house. The smallest house possible was a hundred--I mean we're talking about just a four box--four-room box--broke, no money. I said let me think about this. At the same time, there was a dentist in Columbus who passed. His name was Dr. Clifton Williams. And it just so happened that his wife was living with my adopted mom [Elizabeth Richmond] in Fort Valley [Georgia] working on her master's degree at Fort Valley State College. They called me and apprised me of the fact that Dr. Williams had passed and asked me would I be interested in seeing the practice before they mentioned it to anybody else. I wasn't excited about that, because I wanted to go to Atlanta. But my mom and my, my wife [Mamie Cook nee Richmond] said I think you ought to go down and take a look at it, which I did. And I came down here at a, a heapings of records--patient records, which was the biggest thing in a practice. He was well liked, had good people skill. He was in a building that had a history of healthcare. And on the corner of--"healthcare corner" we called it (laughter), which is not far from here, by the way; it's just a few blocks from here. After giving a lot of thought and then after reflecting on what it would cost me to get started in Atlanta, in a city would--that would take me years to even be known because of the numbers alone, I decided Columbus is not a bad idea. And I can always move to Atlanta if I want to. That was thirty-two years ago. And the, the fun of that is many times I called a colleague in Atlanta and said let's have a cocktail together at the bar in Atlanta. He said where are you, Henry? I said in ca--I'm in Columbus. He said well, well, when you get to Atlanta, call--I said no, no, you start now, and I'll start now. And I would always beat him to the bar, because the traffic's so bad in Atlanta. That was my private joke with him. And they never believed--you were not in Columbus. Yes, I was--hour 20 minutes I'm in Atlanta; hour and a half they were stuck in traffic (laughter).$So what did you go about to make the practice even grow more from the one you inherited? What--$$The first thing I did I assumed a--upstairs over a drugstore that was something like five or six rooms. There were three separate businesses up there, believe it or not. At one time a physician was upstairs, a, a CPA bookkeeper was upstairs, and a dentist was upstairs. And that was nothing, not enough space for me. I couldn't do anything with, with two-room dental practice. So I got the entire upstairs renovated, made it look, you know, appealing for what I thought, and I started there; did my own marketing. There was no, no mass media, just got out and just met folk; went to the churches. After work I would just go in the neighborhood and just meet people. And I just liked doing that anyway. That was just natural for me. That was a natural--and over a short period of time, I guess half of Columbus [Georgia] knew I was in town. The, the--a, a little boy is here (laughter). And of course the best one they said: "He's little and young, but he's good." And that one I could relate to. So it started there. And I always had business cards wherever I went. I thought about it like this, I can buy a thousand business cards for ten dollars. And if one patient come in I've paid for that and the next six orders, so I gave business cards everywhere.$$So how did the black community receive you--(simultaneous)--$$Quite well, quite well. I think they were impressed the way I came and took the entire upstairs and just renovated the entire thing, (unclear) in business, which has never happened before. And the word come out--he had the whole upstairs, which it was not really much. But given, you know, the history of three and sometimes four businesses, one in each room, you know, up there prior to that, I guess that kind of like got people attention.$$And the white community?$$Didn't make any impact on them at the time. But what I did, I went out to meet all of that, white guys, went to meet all of 'em. On my--on Thursday was my day off. I was in, in the dental office every Thursday, sometimes three and four. And it was, it was--I had motives, find out how do you do this, or what do you use for that, which piece of equipment is good, which is bad, you know. And I gleaned a whole lot of information from my colleagues, particularly the white ones who were buying new stuff. And, and my intentions after I was here for a short period was to build a building in five years. Nobody knew that but me and my, my family, but everything I did as of, I guess, a few months after I was--I, I--after I was here was to get around that. So I started gathering information on the how-to's, and what cost this, and what waste--don't waste your money on that. And I got good response, basically because I like people. And by and large, I think don't have a problem getting along with people at all, because I don't wait for them, you know, to come to me. I just get up and go.$$And your building?$$Five years I, I went into the new building, almost to the day. Built a building out on--it was Brookhaven [Georgia] at the time. We got the name changed to Martin Luther King Boulevard right in front of the WMCA, which is a black branch, very well located, very well traveled street; pulled some strings got a bus stop right outside the door (laughter).