Granddaughter seeks to save old Ga. black cemetery

A historic cemetery that is the last trace of an African-American community founded by former slaves is at the center of a legal battle between a developer and a woman whose grandparents and uncle are buried there.

A lawsuit has been filed in Fulton County Superior Court on behalf of Elon Butts Osby seeking to stop Brandon Marshall from removing Mt. Olive Cemetery, which was once part of Macedonia Park. The area was a black community first settled by former slaves before becoming a formal subdivision in the 1920s.

Wright Mitchell, Osby's attorney and president of the Buckhead Heritage Society, said the site is a public cemetery that never should have been sold. Marshall contends the site is a private cemetery and that moving the remains to a "more proper" location would show the proper respect for the dead.

Osby testified at an injunction hearing on Tuesday that she doesn't want her relatives relocated.

"Of course I don't want that to happen," she said. "It hurts to even think about your family members being dug up and moved somewhere. If the cemetery is moved, it interrupts the legacy. In my heart and in my mind, it's almost like everything stops."

During the mid-1900s, Macedonia Park was razed to make way for a public park, originally named for William Bagley, Osby's grandfather.

Mitchell told the judge as many as 120 people could be buried at the site, which was erroneously classified by the county as a vacant lot, not a cemetery.

Cemeteries are tax-exempt under Georgia law. Marshall acquired the property after Fulton County assessed taxes against the cemetery. The property was sold at auction when the taxes went unpaid.

A city ordinance says public cemeteries cannot be moved, although private ones can be. At issue is whether Mt. Olive is public or private.

Ed Daugherty, a landscape architect who grew up near Macedonia Park, said he remembered Mt. Olive Baptist Church and its adjacent cemetery as one that served the community and other black enclaves nearby.

"You're not supposed to use the word 'segregation,'" Daugherty said after the hearing. "What happened there was a product of the time, the taking of the land. But this is part of our history."

D.L. Henderson, a preservationist and genealogist who studies black cemeteries and has visited Mt. Olive, said such places may sometimes lack recognition because they look different from traditional places of burial.

"African-American cemeteries in wooded areas are not necessarily unkempt or uncared for," Henderson said. "It's not going to look like a landscaped, Euro-style cemetery, but that doesn't mean it's not a sacred place."

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