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Atlanta celebrates restoration of African American Burial Grounds at Oakland Cemetery

ATLANTA (CW69 News at 10) -- As we head toward the Juneteenth holiday, the City of Atlanta is celebrating the first large-scale restoration of the African American Burial Grounds at Historic Oakland Cemetery in more than a century. Officials held a ceremony on June 10, 2022, celebrating the restored grounds where enslaved, free, prominent and every day African Americans are laid to rest.

The Historic Oakland Foundation and City of Atlanta have completed the restoration after five years of hard work and raising $600,000 according to Dr. Richard Harker, the foundation's executive director.

"This section has so much rich history, and so much that we can learn from it, and so to have arrived at this moment today is really special for us," said Harker.

The restoration holds special meaning for Ernest Tate, who sang with the Big Bethel A.M.E. Church Choir at the ceremony and is a member of the foundation. He's the great-grandson of James Tate, a slave whose owner secretly taught him to read. He later used his education to open doors for other African Americans following the Civil War. Tate helped launch the first school for African Americans in Atlanta at Bethel Church. He was also regarded as the "Father of Black Business" in Atlanta.

"The restoration of the grounds has just been fantastic the last four or five years. They have done a wonderful job," said Tate. "There's a story to tell, and African Americans have been a vital part of the fabric of Atlanta."

The cemetery dates back to 1850, and the last big restoration took place around 1899. Preservation teams restored headstones, rebuilt retaining walls and repaved pathways.

Sam Reed has overseen the cemetery for more than two decades as the sexton. "We could not have done this without the foundation," he said. "It's been a wonderful project. It's been a wonderful 24 years."

"These grounds are sacred. They hold the remains of many who could only dream of freedom," said City of Atlanta Department of Parks and Recreation Deputy Commissioner Alvin Dodson.

"We are here today in this sacred space, still learning, still growing from Atlanta's complicated, but very rich past," said Mayor Andre Dickens.

Dickens and others reflected on the cemetery's countless resting places of people who impacted Atlanta and the world, including Bishop Wesley Gaines, a community leader and a co-founder of Morris Brown College.

"Mr. Gaines, I know you're watching from heaven. Morris Brown College is back, and we will move the institution forward," said Morris Brown College President Dr. Kevin James. The college had lost its accreditation in 2002 due to financial mismanagement and was reaccredited nearly 20 years later in 2021.

The cemetery is now looking ahead to the next century of preserving this rich history. For information on tours and events, click here.

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