History matters. When history is lost, we lose a part of our ability not just to remember, but to understand and learn from the past. Piney Grove cemetery matters because its story is emblematic of the story of Black people in Atlanta, and in The United States more broadly. The story of Piney Grove is one that time almost forgot, but a group of local community members stepped up and began to implement a plan to restore respect and dignity to the cemetery, and honor their ancestors and the Black community in Georgia. Piney Grove is one example of Georgia’s history of redlining and the exclusion of Black residents on one hand and the systematic neglect and expulsion of established Black communities on the other.
The Piney Grove Cemetery Committee and the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) will be working to restore Piney Grove Cemetery in March of this year.
Piney Grove Cemetery is considered the last remaining historic landmark of Piney Grove, a former African American community, located in present-day Buckhead that dates back as far as the mid-1820s. The cemetery has over 300 graves, some of which hold the remains of formerly enslaved people who helped build this city.
This sacred site is also a historically significant landmark for Atlanta determined to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The irregular burial patterns, the variety of hewn and native gravestones, and the terraced landscaping are unique features that give Piney Grove Cemetery a distinct historic character and make it significant to Atlanta’s cultural landscape.
Despite this, Piney Grove Cemetery has been threatened by highways and high-end residential developments for a number of decades. The cemetery today sits uncared for and overgrown, surrounded by multi-million dollar luxury housing developments on every side. The “access road” provided by the developers is nothing more than a strip of grass hidden behind some luxury townhomes with no markings or signage even indicating that the cemetery is located there.
The motivation to clean up the cemetery is clear and urgent. Members of the old Piney Grove community are leading the restoration effort, many of whom have family buried in the cemetery. The history that will be preserved is broad importance but is also personal, because the Piney Grove community still has living connections. Some of the family members have been trying to find ways to restore the site for decades but have been stymied or rebuffed by various state institutions at nearly every attempt. That is why the community has now decided to organize itself and take matters into its own hands.
The first necessary step in restoration will be the removal of the vegetation on site so that a full and accurate assessment of the landscaping that will be needed can be made. To do this first a volunteer crew will clear up some of the dangerous trash like broken bottles and old tires, as well as clearing harmful or poisonous vegetation. This volunteer crew will be working on March 7. Once the site is safe, the committee will be renting goats to help clear the land. It is estimated that it will take about a week of goat browsing to get the site cleared enough for an assessment of the landscaping and archaeology work that will be needed to complete the restoration.
To learn more, visit the Facebook event page for the cleanup.