Visitors to Oakland’s Historic African American Burial Grounds in the last five years have noticed significant incremental improvements to both the hardscape and landscape of this 3.2-acre section of the Cemetery. Since Ground Penetrating Radar conducted in 2016 revealed the presence of 800 previously unidentified graves there, HOF’s preservation and horticulture teams have been working to restore the burial grounds. After five years and $600,000, we were thrilled to complete the restoration of this previously under-invested-in section of the Cemetery, and to mark the occasion with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens. Support for this restoration was made possible by the generous support of thousands of donors since 2016.
HOF’s largest-ever restoration project, the 7.5-acre East Hill restoration entered its third year in 2022. Over $1 million was spent this year on the project, which resulted in the completion of all the hardscape work (including retaining walls) on the southern half of the Hill and almost half the hardscape work on the northern half of the Hill. Additionally, HOF’s gardens team installed landscaping on 128 individual lots on the Hill, representing the largest ever single-year improvement to Oakland’s gardens and keeping HOF on pace to complete the East Hill project in 2024.
In November a ribbon-cutting with Mayor Andre Dickens and other dignitaries marked the completion of a nearly $2 million rehabilitation of Oakland’s most iconic building, the 1899 Bell Tower. Built in 1899, the Oakland Bell Tower served as the office for the Cemetery’s sexton. Prior to rehabilitation, this 2,800 square-foot structure continued as the sexton’s office but also housed Historic Oakland Foundation’s offices, meeting space, archives, a gift shop, storage, the Cemetery’s records, a visitor center, and public restrooms. Space was tight, and the historic building suffered from overuse.
Rehabilitation by Smith-Dalia Architects opened up the first and second-floor spaces and focused on masonry repair; window restoration; new roofing, updated plumbing, electrical, and mechanical; and the addition of an elevator for greater accessibility and safety. Now complete, the Oakland Bell Tower features two floors of elegant event space, two spacious outdoor balconies overlooking the Cemetery and the Atlanta skyline, and a public restroom. The entire building is now ADA-compliant, with elevator access to the second floor.
The rehabilitation of Oakland’s 1899 Bell Tower building is one of three milestone projects in HOF’s first ever capital campaign: Living History, and was made possible through the significant generosity of The Imlay Foundation and Invest Atlanta, as well as Dr. Jerry and Mrs. Vivian Gowitt, and the Bruce Barfield Family.
7,200 visitors explored Oakland Cemetery after dark this April as a diverse group of artists and creatives shined a light on Oakland’s untold stories at illumine 2022. From April 21 through May 1, visitors explored light installations by artists Valerie Crisostomo, Quiana Upton, Sherida Heath, Jasmine Nicole, Ellex Swavoni, and others throughout the Cemetery’s original six acres, Bell Tower Ridge, and historic African American Burial Grounds. During the eight evenings of Illumine, visitors were entertained by performances by Okorie “OKCELLO” Johnson, and enthralled by installations by partner organizations including Sweet Auburn Works and the Cherokee Garden Library. The unique after-dark experience welcomed a diverse new audience to Oakland and raised over $110,000. The event was significantly supported by the Fulton County Arts Council.
On November 6, 2022, HOF partnered with the Consulate General of Mexico in Atlanta and the Institute of Mexican Culture to bring Atlanta’s Day of the Dead festival to historic Oakland Cemetery for the first time. 9,000 visitors celebrated Día de Muertos and communed with the dead while enjoying music, dancing, crafts, authentic Mexican food, and entertainment. Catrinas and Catrines welcomed visitors to the free festival as the Cemetery continued its long history of providing visitors with a chance to celebrate life and remember the dead.