Audrey Collins looks down at her grandmother’s headstone on Sunday, June 14, 2015, in Atlanta. It wasn’t on her ancestor’s grave. Rather, it was leaning against a tree. Collins could not find a headstone for her brother who died in infancy, or for her grandfather. And when she spotted a pile of broken headstones in the woods, she became upset and ran. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL
Photo: Branden Camp
Photo: Branden Camp

Cemetery for former slaves goes unnoticed among Buckhead homes

More than 300 people are buried less than a mile south of Lenox Square, many of whom are former slaves.

In June 2015, one family — retired Atlanta police officer Richard Thomas and his cousins Audrey Collins and Earl Dillard — ventured out to Piney Grove Cemetery to find their relatives for the first time in years.

Collins spotted her grandmother's headstone leaning against a tree, instead of fastened to the ground like the others.

“It was heart-wrenching to see your loved ones like that,” Collins said. “You don’t know where they are. You can’t find the markers, and the ones you are able to locate are not attached, so we don’t even know if that is where our grandmother is. And we have no idea where our grandfather is.”

When she came across a pile of broken headstones, she refused to look at them and ran.

The cemetery dates back to 1826, and today the area is barely recognizable as a resting place.

Sam Massell — president of the Buckhead Coalition — believes the graves haven't been disturbed or paved over for any developments.

“There has absolutely been no building on top of graves,” said Mike Smith, who developed the Bluffs at Lenox for JBGL Atlanta Development.

Collins, who couldn't find her grandfather's headstone when she looked, realizes the headstone could possibly be somewhere in that pile of debris.

"I would hate to think that would have happened," she said. " ...I just don't know."

Read more about the mystery behind the cemetery in ruins on MyAJC.com.

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