Restoration work begins in Oakland Cemetery’s African American Grounds

Volunteer LaDoris Davis portrayed Dr. Beatrice Thompson during Capturing the Spirit of Oakland.

Volunteer LaDoris Davis portrayed Dr. Beatrice Thompson during Capturing the Spirit of Oakland.

Historic Oakland Foundation (HOF) has a goal to completely restore Oakland Cemetery’s historic African American Grounds, and is now one step closer. This month HOF will finish a restoration project at the final resting place of one of Georgia’s first black female doctors.

Last October during the Capturing the Spirit of Oakland Halloween Tours, attendees donated a record-breaking $7,500 to help restore the final resting place of Dr. Beatrice Thompson and her sister Estella Henderson. Dr. Thompson graduated from medical school in 1901 before establishing a practice in Athens, Ga., a rare accomplishment at the time for a woman, much less a woman of color. Estella Henderson is buried next to her sister and was similarly accomplished as a lawyer and professor at Morris Brown College.

“This year we begin a concerted focus on restoring the African American Grounds and the work on the Thompson lot is a monumental first step for the Foundation. We want to keep the momentum around this project going and in order to do so, we need support in the form of both community involvement and financial backing from public and private donors,” said David Moore, executive director at HOF.

An additional $300,000 is needed to complete the African American Grounds restoration project.

The Thompson lot contains nine recorded burials, four of which have monuments associated with them. HOF’s Preservation, Restoration, and Operations (PRO) Team restored each of these monuments, which were uneven, broken, and unstable due to the passage of time. HOF’s gardens team will in turn improve the lot with period-appropriate landscaping.

A new headstone will be erected for Dr. Thompson and her husband, Sidney J. Thompson, who was a probation officer with the Fulton County juvenile court and founder of the first Atlanta Boys’ Club. The markers will be laid at a private dedication ceremony in the spring.

On Monday, Jan. 16 HOF commemorates the Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service with a volunteer opportunity at Oakland Cemetery. From 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., individual and group volunteers are invited to join the gardens team, which will have a number of landscaping tasks throughout Oakland’s 48 acres, including headstone cleaning in the African American Grounds. All skill levels are welcome, but an RSVP is required in advance. Throughout February, HOF will offer free guided walking tours of the African American Grounds during Black History Month.