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Demystifying Grant Park’s Nonprofits

Part 1: Historic Oakland Foundation

By Ashley Zhu

This article is part one of six detailing the major nonprofits operating in Grant Park. Contributor Ashley Zhu is a current undergraduate student at Emory University. 

The Historic Oakland Foundation (HOF) works to preserve and restore the Oakland Cemetery, which is Atlanta’s oldest public green space. Though the cemetery was established in 1850 as the first cemetery in Atlanta, the organization itself was not founded until 1976, after the cemetery had undergone decades of neglect and disrepair.

Among many of the things they do to maintain the cemetery, the foundation fixes walkways that have been destroyed by tree roots, uncovers headstones that have sunk into the ground over time, and rebuilds walls that have collapsed. They have also installed new gardens and have restored almost 20 acres of Oakland’s 40 acres of land. 

In addition to their main staff, the Historic Oakland Foundation is also assisted by over 300 volunteers who help with everything from taking care of the gardens to helping set up their bigger fundraising events. 

“We just have the most amazing group of volunteers, and we’re always looking for others to help us out and support the work we do every day,” HOF’s executive director Richard Harker added.

Harker also noted that he hopes their efforts will ensure that people will be able to enjoy the Oakland Cemetery another 150 years from now.

According to Harker, HOF’s work to restore the cemetery is for the goal of making it a safe, beautiful place for the public to visit. They have developed tours, programs, and events for the public to learn more about the city’s history in “complicated and nuanced ways.”

The cemetery is also a city park, attracting people to walk their dogs and enjoy the peace and quiet of the green space. Harker noted that the space is for everyone to enjoy, and is also an “island of tranquility” in the heart of the bustling metropolitan landscape.

Harker added that they are in the process of building a new visitor center outside of their main gates, where he hopes that community groups will meet and gather to explore the park. The project will conclude in the next 12 to 18 months.

“Historic Oakland Foundation was created by a group of people that love history and love Oakland and wanted to care for it and bring it back to glory and bring it back to life,” Richard Harker said. “And so for the last 47 years, we’ve been working here to take care of this special treasure.”

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