In 2017, Historic Oakland Foundation’s preservation team embarked upon a phased restoration project in one of its most historically and culturally rich sections: the African American Grounds. During the three-year project, the team not only restored headstones and monuments but also uncovered, through research, the stories of those who were buried in the African American Grounds.
One such resident is Birdie E. Gaither. Gaither was born in 1883, less than twenty years after the conclusion of the Civil War and the end of slavery in the United States. It is unknown if her parents were formerly enslaved, nor is much known about Gaither’s life prior to the 1920s, including whether she was born in Atlanta or later moved to the city. Nonetheless, Gaither became a well-known fixture of the African American community in the city. A graduate of Atlanta University, now known as Clark Atlanta University, and of the Atlanta School of Social Work, Gaither dedicated her life to service both through her work and through her commitment to various civic organizations and her church, the First Congregation Church of Atlanta.
Gaither dedicated her life to service both through her work and through her commitment to various civic organizations and her church, the First Congregation Church of Atlanta.
During her life in Atlanta, Gaither primarily resided at 140 Howell Street. Several Atlanta Daily World articles note that Gaither was known for hosting meetings and parties at her home for various groups and clubs in the African American community, including a meeting of the Utopian Literary Club to discuss Japanese Culture featuring guest speaker Royokichi Hirono, and a Bible class in tribute to Professor C.L. Harper by J.M. Chiles. Gaither’s home played host to smaller, more social events as well, such as a gathering of the Fifth Ward Morris Brown Club, which was a Halloween-themed affair decorated in a “black and orange color motif.”
Gaither passed away on December 15, 1963, and left behind six children, seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Her obituary, published in both The Atlanta Constitution and the Atlanta Daily World, notes that Gaither’s body lay in state at her final residence, 2648 Hightower Court, and that her funeral would be overseen by the reverend of her church, Reverend Homer C. McEwen, along with assistance from Reverend M.L. King, Sr., father of Martin Luther King, Jr. Gaither was buried at Oakland Cemetery in the African American Grounds one year before the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which would have fully ended segregation and therefore the need for separate burial grounds for African Americans.
Feature photo by Linda Feree