By Mary Fernandez
Historic Oakland Foundation’s annual arts event, Illumine, takes place this year April 21-24 and April 28-May 1 at Oakland Cemetery. This year’s event celebrates the hardscape and landscape restoration of the cemetery’s historic African American burial grounds and looks at the larger history of the site and its residents. One of Illumine’s highlights this year includes a large-scale installation in North Public Grounds. As a “paupers burial ground,” North Public Grounds served as the burial site for several hundred poor, white residents of Atlanta, while Black residents were buried in the segregated section of the cemetery known as “Slave Square.” In 2003, Atlanta’s first Black mayor, Maynard Jackson Jr., was buried in the northwest corner of North Public Grounds, desegregating the section and, as Jackson did in life, crossing a final color line at Oakland Cemetery.
Mayor Maynard Jackson Jr. was the grandson of John Wesley Dobbs, a political organizer and civic leader who was often referred to as the “unofficial mayor of Auburn Avenue.” Auburn Avenue and the Sweet Auburn district played a critical role in the politics and economics of Atlanta and was the nucleus of Black life and influence in the city prior to the Civil Rights Movement. The neighborhood’s significance, past and present, will be highlighted by the Hero Walk, a forthcoming 1.1-mile guided path through the historic Sweet Auburn neighborhood which terminates at Oakland Cemetery. The Hero Walk is a project of Sweet Auburn Works, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation, revitalization, and promotion of the historic Sweet Auburn neighborhood. Historic Oakland Foundation is delighted to partner with the Hero Walk at Illumine and to showcase the many ways that Oakland Cemetery reflects the story of Atlanta beyond its brick walls and gates. Tickets for Illumine are available now at www.oaklandcemetery.com/illumine-2022.