On March 7, about 50 members of the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) from North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama worked with ANSWER Atlanta and local community members to clean up Piney Grove Cemetery, a Black cemetery that has been neglected by the city of Atlanta. The cemetery mainly houses the graves of Black Americans who died around the early 20th century. The three-acre site is located on Canterbury Road in downtown Atlanta, behind a community of luxury townhomes.
The stark realities of Atlanta’s gentrification crisis are readily apparent when one takes a look at the cemetery and the neighborhood that surrounds it. It is disturbing that the leaders of an overwhelmingly Black city would allow a burial ground that houses Black veterans and community elders to fall into disrepair while being careful to meticulously maintain the luxury homes and commercial properties that surround the cemetery. Many Atlantans that know of the cemetery’s existence are annoyed with its current state, and about 30 community members joined the ANSWER Coalition in the clean-up session that took place.
Some of the locals who came out to support the restoration effort shared their feelings about the cemetery and ANSWER’s presence in their community. Community elder Ethan Charles Thomas stated that he was born in Atlanta in 1935, and has family members who were buried in the cemetery. He said that he attended Piney Grove Church and that he used to visit the cemetery while he was growing up. He expressed a great deal of joy that ANSWER was out in his community that afternoon cleaning up.
Deacon Richard Thomas is another community member whose ancestors are buried in the grave site. He said he appreciated ANSWER and the local community coming together to help beautify the site so that his family members could rest in peace. He also recalled running through the cemetery after church as a child and having Easter egg hunts at the burial grounds. He stated that the cemetery has always been a part of his life and that he was excited that the 300 graves on the property were once again being uncovered.
A community member known as M stated that they simply came out to help clean after hearing about the event through word of mouth.
“I think that it’s really important and valuable to society and to history to try and preserve historical sites…Especially when we find that old African-American grounds are being built over; and we have highways, schools, and district buildings on top of these gravesites, you know, these people have families here,” they said.
M went on to state that they have “recently become aware of that, and…it is a responsibility so the place doesn’t get grown over and all these stories and these families and these communities…It’s important for them. It’s important for us and also I think for the history of the area and the kids and the whole community.”
The ANSWER Coalition and local Atlantans met at noon and cleaned at the site for three hours. They worked together at cutting down trees, pulling weeds, raking leaves, cutting away brush, and clearing trash from the space. About a third of the cemetery was clear by the end of the clean-up session. For this reason, the Atlanta ANSWER chapter plans to continue to work with the local community in cleaning the grounds until it is completely visible.