After six years of fundraising and restoration efforts to beautify the African American Burial Grounds in Atlanta, the Historic Oakland Foundation recently announced the completion of its work.
The 3.5-acre area within Oakland Cemetery’s 48 acres has not undergone large-scale restoration in more than a century. But at Friday’s ceremony for the burial grounds, Richard Harker, the foundation’s executive director, said thousands of donors pitched in to provide the $600,000 required to perform extensive hardscape and landscape restoration.
Harker said their roster of supporters includes the Historic Oakland Foundation Board, the city of Atlanta, and the Georgia Power Foundation, among others.
“So much of our history is here in Oakland’s burial grounds,” said Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens. “The city of Atlanta’s investment in this history, and its lessons, are ongoing ... It is vital that we continue to make major investments in our important public spaces.”
The restoration project began after the foundation completed a ground-penetrating radar survey of the area, which contained more than 800 unmarked graves. Black burial traditions historically involved natural markers like wood, shrubbery, or flowers. Years of neglect left piles of soil covering many of the remaining headstones in the area.
After the hardscape restoration was complete, garden staff installed trees, shrubs, groundcover and other plants.
From the inception of Atlanta’s municipal cemetery in 1850, the burial grounds for enslaved persons and free African Americans were legally segregated from the other sections of the cemetery located east of downtown Atlanta along Memorial Drive. Cemetery officials estimate the Black burial grounds contain more than 12,000 entrepreneurs, educators, ministers, physicians, and other prominent and ordinary citizens who helped to shape the city’s history.
The Historic Oakland Foundation’s large-scale restoration projects also include work in the Jewish Burial Ground and the area around the gravesite of legendary golfer Bobby Jones.
Other dignitaries resting at Oakland Cemetery include Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first Black mayor, former Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen, Jr., and Bishop Wesley John Gaines, co-founder of Morris Brown Collège, county music star Kenny Rogers and Gone With the Wind novelist Margaret Mitchell.
“The restoration of the African American Burial Grounds only begins to reveal some of the depth and contributions of Atlanta’s African American community,” said Valerie Jackson, Maynard Jackson’s widow.