This is the oldest cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia, as well as one of the largest continuous patches of green space anywhere in the city. Oakland Cemetery was founded as Atlanta Cemetery in 1850 on just six acres of land outside of the city’s downtown. When it was renamed in 1872 to better reflect the landscape, the cemetery had grown to its current size of 48 acres.
Buried on those 48 acres are Civil War soldiers (both Union and Confederate), captains of industry, Civil Rights pioneers, and all other types of individuals. Some notable residents include 25 former mayors of Atlanta, six former governors of the state, several Confederate generals, employees involved in the Great Locomotive Chase, the founder of Morris Brown College, the owner of the pharmacy where John Pemberton first sold Coca-Cola as a soft drink, the only golf player to win all of the sport’s major tournaments in one year, Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell and many more.
In 1852, the Atlanta City Council ruled that people of color were to be buried separately, in public grounds on the eastern boundary of the cemetery. This section was known as “Slave Square.” In 1866, another plot of land was dedicated for Black burials. In 1877, the remains of those buried in Slave Square were exhumed and reburied in another section of Oakland Cemetery, now known as the African American Grounds.
In 2017, the cemetery began a restoration project of these grounds, which had not undergone a large-scale restoration in more than a century. In addition to restoring and protecting delicate headstones, the cemetery is adding signage to educate visitors about Black history in Atlanta.
Since 1872 when the cemetery was renamed, Atlanta has continued to grow. While Oakland Cemetery first started out on the outskirts of the city, Atlanta has grown to encircle the park. Stepping through the front gates is like taking a walk back into a city that once stood more than 130 years ago. Many of Atlanta’s early street names and other landmarks names have been preserved on the mausoleums and tombs scattered throughout the cemetery.
While the last plots in the cemetery were sold way back in 1884, regular burials still take place in the park, usually on family-owned spots passed down from generation to generation or on plots owned by the city to be used for local legends, one of the most recent being mayor Maynard Jackson. Today, an estimated 70,000 people are interred at Oakland.