Atlanta’s Historic Oakland Foundation is hoping to raise $400,000 to completely restore the African-American Grounds at the Oakland Cemetery. With several cracked and sunken head stones and hundreds of unmarked graves, organizers say the area is in need of a major face lift.
In October, the Oakland Cemetery managed to raise $9,000 during its annual “Capturing the Spirit of Oakland” Halloween tours, local station WABE reported. The foundation is still in need of funds, however, so it’s partnering with a number of other Georgia nonprofits for Georgia Gives Day on Nov. 28, a yearly campaign aimed at supporting NGO’s statewide.
Their goal? To raise $5,000 by midnight that day.
It’s been over 100 years since the African-American section of the cemetery has seen any major renovations, according to the Oakland Cemetery website. Laura Hennighausen, the Development Director for the Historic Oakland Foundation, says such such neglect speaks to the history of how Black Americans have been treated both locally and nationally.
“It was just not a priority for a long time,” Hennighausen told WABE. “There’s been work; it wasn’t completely neglected. It has not been a concerted effort, and I think that’s just how it has been, unfortunately.”
At a time when people of color were buried separately from white people in an area known as the “Slave Square,” Hennighausen explained that many of the families couldn’t afford a headstone, so they marked their graves with biodegradable materials such as flowers. That is why so many headstones could be missing from the burial grounds.
She added that funeral homes would sometimes provide concrete markers in lieu of a headstone. However, many families still couldn’t afford to replace them with a material that would last longer, so the concrete markers remained.
Hennighausen told WABE that the number of unmarked burials in the section may be close to 1,000, citing data from ground-penetrating radar and GPS technology used by surveyors last year to find materials like coffins and headstones underground. Those areas were then marked with little orange flags.
“Once our restoration team started doing work in that area, they think that the number could actually be higher (than 872),” she said.
According to Hennighausen, all the money raised from Georgia Gives Day will go directly toward landscaping renovations in the Africa-American section.
“We have a good plan to be working every month of next year in the section, so, hopefully, with more donations, we’ll be able to continue to work pretty quickly,” she added.