Oakland Cemetery’s free guided tours relay the history of Atlanta’s earliest civil rights leaders

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day and throughout Black History Month, Historic Oakland Foundation (HOF) hosts free guided walking tours of Oakland Cemetery’s African American Grounds, a burial space containing the histories of thousands of Atlanta’s earliest black citizens.

On Monday, Jan. 15 at 1:30 p.m., HOF offers visitors a “behind-the-stones” guided tour of the restoration work happening in the cemetery’s 3.5-acre African American Grounds section. This tour is free and open to the public, and reservations are not required to join.

In 2017 HOF began a large-scale, phased hardscape and landscape restoration of the area, which had not undergone a massive restoration in more than 100 years. During the tour, attendees will learn about some of the people and families whose lots have recently been restored, as well as what projects remain in the African American Grounds.

“On King Day we look forward to welcoming repeat visitors and newcomers alike, and hope that folks will take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about some Oakland residents who contributed to Atlanta’s early civil rights movements,” said David Moore, executive director of HOF.

Before the City of Atlanta ended segregation of public spaces in the 1960s, citizens were racially separated even in death; Oakland Cemetery is the final resting place for over 12,000 African Americans. Notable Atlantans buried in the African American Grounds section include: Thomas Askew, one of the city’s first black professional photographers; Marie Woolfork Taylor, a co-founder of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.; real estate pioneer Antoine Graves, Sr.; and Selena Sloan Butler, who in 1911 founded Atlanta’s first parent-teacher association for black families.

As part of the national MLK Day of Service, Bank of America staffers and students from Georgia Tech will lend HOF’s gardens team a helping hand, with volunteers tackling various landscape projects in the African American Grounds.

For those unable to attend the Jan. 15 tour, throughout February HOF will offer tours of the African American Grounds. Presented in partnership with the City of Atlanta, the hour-long tours will be offered at 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 10, Feb. 13, Feb. 17, and Feb. 22. February’s tours are also free and open to the public, but a reservation is required in advance as space is limited.

Any donations received during these tours will be allocated to the African American Grounds restoration project.