This week, many across the U.S. commemorated and acknowledged Juneteenth. I was in a very reflective state of mind that day, lending my thoughts to what freedom really meant for African Americans after slavery. I asked Ali’a for ideas on black historic sites in Atlanta, that I could visit and document. Of those she suggested, Oakland Cemetery really stood out to me. Since moving to Atlanta, Oakland Cemetery’s historic preservation work and public programming has piqued my interest. I have never taken a guided tour, so I decided Juneteenth was the day to find out how the Historic Oakland Foundation interprets African American history.
Oakland Cemetery’s gift shop has a number of books about African American history in Atlanta. Authors of those books include Herman “Skip” Mason, Karcheik Sim-Alvarado, and Dr. D L Henderson. There were also brochures detailing the cemetery’s interpretation of their African American burial grounds. Freedom for African Americans after the Civil War meant segregation. That was also the case at Oakland Cemetery. I picked up a brochure titled “Historic Oakland Cemetery’s African American Grounds: Stories of Trials and Triumphs” from the visitor center. It states that in 1852 Atlanta city council ruled that people of color were to be buried separate from the public grounds. The area in which these individuals were buried was formally known as Slave Square. This was enforced until the 1960s.
In addition to interpreting the segregated burial grounds, the Historic Oakland Foundation is home to guided and self guided walking tours. Tours like the “African American Voices: At Historic Oakland Cemetery” audio cell phone tour, details notable African Americans buried at the site. This provides a unique way to learn about the historical contributions of Atlanta’s African Americans. For instance Carrie Steele Logan (1829-1900), opened the city’s first black orphanage. Marie Woolfolk Taylor (1893-1960), one of the founding members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. In addition to Dr. Roderick D. Badger (1834 – 1890), the first African American dentist in Atlanta…and many others.
Restoration of the cemetery’s three-and-a-half acre African American Grounds began in 2017. According to Historic Oakland’s website, repairs are being made to fragile headstones, retaining walls, and paved historic pathways. Currently in phase 3 of restoration, $217k of the desired $219k in funding has been raised to complete the project.
The opportunity to learn about the contributions of those who were either slaves, or one to two generations removed from slavery, is moving. It’s spiritual. Sean, one of the technicians on the Historic Oakland Foundation Preservation Restoration Operations team said that churches, members of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Masons, family descendants, and a host of others often come in groups to pay homage to those that have come before them.
May we all continue to visit and support these important African American, Black legacies that are being preserved by organizations like the Historic Oakland Foundation and friends.