Saturday, October 13, 2018

Atlanta, Georgia: Oakland Cemetery

Our sole sightseeing expedition during our time in Atlanta, Georgia, was our visit to the historic Oakland Cemetery, which was founded in 1850, during the height of the garden cemetery movement. Six acres were originally purchased, but the cemetery is spread out over 48 acres today. An estimated 70,000 people are interred at Oakland, and while the last plots were sold in 1884, there are still regular burials today.

A very helpful docent was able to suggest a kind of "highlights" walk that included the grave site of Margaret Mitchell (she who wrote Gone with the Wind); the African American Grounds; the Confederate Memorial Grounds; Slave Square; and the Old Jewish Burial Grounds.

Neither Ed nor I have read Gone with the Wind, nor have we seen the film, but we did briefly stop at Margaret Mitchell's grave (which had a lot of pennies on it) before moving on to areas that were of greater interest to us, namely the areas having (for us) more historical interest. Our first stop was the Slave Square.

In 1852, the Atlanta City Council ruled that African Americans were to be buried in a segregated section at the rear of the Cemetery, at the eastern boundary of the original six acres. (It was in 1853 that a 14-year-old boy was the first internment in Slave Square.) By the beginning of the Civil War, more than 800 people had been buried in this section, known as Slave Square. As more acres were purchased, the cemetery expanded around Slave Square (its current size is 48 acres). In 1866, the Atlanta City Council established a segregated burial ground at the rear of the 48 acres for African Americans. By the 1870s most of the burial plots in Oakland had been sold, and more were needed. In 1877, the City Council ordered that the bodies and bones of the African Americans buried in Slave Square were to be removed and reburied in Oakland's "colored pauper grounds." The old grave spaces in Slave Square were replotted and resold to whites. Legal segregation at Oakland Cemetery ended in 1963, when the City of Atlanta banned segregated public facilities.

overlooking Slave Square
The 65-foot-tall Confederate Dead Obelisk was easy to find. At the time of its construction, it was the tallest thing in Atlanta when it was dedicated in 1870.

The Confederate Dead Obelisk was dedicated on the same
day as Robert E. Lee's funeral (October 15, 1870).
The Lion of the Confederacy was carved from the then-largest block of marble quarried in America. The dying lion was copied from a nearly identical monument in Switzerland, clutching a Rebel flag in its paws, rests atop the mass grave of 3,000 unidentified Confederate soldiers, who were buried in Oakland Cemetery after losing the Battle of Atlanta.

the Lion of the Confederacy was erected in 1894.

Next to the Lion of the Confederacy are the Confederate Memorial Grounds, where more than 6,900 Civil War soldiers are buried.

part of the Confederate Memorial Grounds
We then made our way to the Old Jewish Burial Ground, which included the Burial Ground of Congregation Ahavath Achim. This section of the cemetery was bounded by the lane to the east, the sidewalk to the west, and the wall to the south, and was established in 1892 as the burial ground for Congregation Ahavath Achim, chartered in 1887 as the city's first synagogue composed primarily of Jews of Eastern European descent.

the Jewish Flat section in the Old Jewish Burial Ground
We started heading back to the Bell Tower, but circled by the African American Grounds, a section was designated for African American burials in 1866, when the City of Atlanta set aside a five-acre portion of land as an African American burial ground to separate the grave sites of African Americans and whites. Before 1866, African Americans were buried in Slave Square on the northeaster corner of the cemetery's original six acres. Until the legal segregation of public facilities in Atlanta ended in 1963, the African American burial ground remained the only place in Oakland Cemetery where African Americans were permitted to buy burial plots. The exact number of murals in the African American grounds is unknown, but in 2017 ground penetration radar was used to uncover more than 800 unmarked graves. (According to cemetery records, more than 12,000 African Americans have been buried at Oakland Cemetery since its founding in 1850.)

Many of the graves were marked with wooden crosses or
shrubs, and have worn away.

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