Restoration of more than 12,000 graves of prominent Black figures unveiled at Oakland Cemetery

ATLANTA — The burial grounds of more than 12,000 prominent Black figures have just gone through a large restoration project.

City officials told Channel 2′s Justin Carter that it was time and something needed to be done at the historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta.

Up until 2016, the conditions of these headstones and grounds where prominent African American leaders rest were in bad shape.

In the last six years, the Historic Oakland Foundation — with help from the city of Atlanta — raised over $600,000 to give over 12,000 headstones in the cemetery a much-needed rejuvenation.

Ernest Rate said his great-grandfather, James Tate, started the first school for African Americans at the Big Bethel AME Church in Atlanta.

“He was taught how to read and write. They gave him the advantage after the Civil War to teach his people how to read and write,” Tate said.

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James Tate is in the cemetery and his gravesite was battered by years of flooding and erosion.

Richard Harker, executive director for Oakland Cemetery, said the cemetery was segregated until the 1960s and the area where many prominent Black figures were laid to rest was under-invested.

“We have restored all of the stones, we’ve uncovered walls, we’ve done a lot of horticulture, planted trees, flowers, bushes,” Harker said. “It’s our greatest privilege to be able to take care of this cemetery for everybody and everybody’s families.”

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens was present for the unveiling and said with Juneteenth coming up, restoring this part of the city’s history was a top priority.

The Historic Oakland Foundation said it has just announced an oral history project, where families and descendants can come and listen to stories that will be heard for decades to come.

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