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Erected by the Historic Oakland Foundation, the Slave Square Historical Marker signifies the place where African Americans were first buried in the Oakland Cemetery. When Oakland Cemetery opened in 1850 as a 6-acre cemetery, slaves and free African Americans were buried separately from other sections at the rear of the cemetery by law. This area was called Slave Square. As the cemetery continued to grow, African Americans were moved from Slave Square to what is today known as the African American Grounds because burial plots were needed for white people. Segregation ended in 1963 in the cemetery and around Atlanta, but the Slave Square historical marker reminds visitors of the fight for equality for African Americans, even after death.


  • Photograph of the Slave Square Historical Marker in Oakland Cemetery.
  • Wide shot of the Slave Square Historical Marker in Oakland Cemetery.

Oakland Cemetery opened in 1850 after the City of Atlanta purchased 6 acres of land on the eastern edge of Atlanta from A. W. Wooding. Since the cemetery was added to, there are distinct areas of the cemetery, such as the Original Six Acres, the Jewish Flat and the Jewish Hill, and the Confederate Memorial Grounds. When the cemetery opened in 1850, slaves and free African Americans were separate from other sections of the cemetery, both by law and custom.

In 1852, Atlanta City Council ruled that African Americans were to be buried in a segregated section of the Oakland Cemetery. The area at the rear of the Oakland Cemetery became known as Slave Square where over 800 people were buried. The historic records of African Americans buried in Oakland Cemetery are many time incomplete. If the person was a slave, only the first name would be used, and the full name of the slave owner would be in the section for the surname. The cemetery grew from 6 acres to 48 acres, expanding around Slave Square. In 1866, the Atlanta City Council again ruled that African Americans were to be buried in a segregated part of the cemetery at the rear. When Atlanta needed more burial plots in 1877, the City Council reburied African Americans in Oakland's "colored pauper grounds."1 The burial plots in Slave Square were then resold to whites.

Segregation in Oakland Cemetery continued until 1963 when Atlanta banned segregation in public places. African Americans are buried in the northeastern part of the cemetery, which is now known as the African American Grounds. The African American Grounds have over 12,000 people buried there, but it may look unused. African American in the 19th century used stones and trees as markers since many could not afford grave markers. Despite now being buried here, the historical marker for Slave Square reminds of the struggle that African Americans needed to fight for equality, even after death.

1 Fischer, William . Slave Square, The Historical Marker Database. June 16th 2016. Accessed January 2nd 2020. https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=64824.

2 Character Areas and Landmarks, Historic Oakland Foundation. Accessed January 2nd 2020. https://oaklandcemetery.com/character-areas-and-landmarks/.

3 Davis, Ren. Davis, Helen. Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery: An Illustrated History and Guide. Athens, GA. University of Georgia Press, 2012.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Image courtesy of William Fischer at the Historical Marker Database.

Image courtesy of William Fischer at the Historical Marker Database.