By John Schaffner
email@example.comThe fate of the last vestige of an African-American community that once existed in Buckhead—where Frankie Allen Park is today—was once again at stake March 8 at a public hearing on whether a land speculator will be allowed to uproot and move the graves from a historic cemetery he acquired through a big mistake.
The next day, the City Council’s Community Development Committee, which conducted the public hearing, voted to deny the issuance of a cemetery disturbance permit for the property at 431 Pharr Road, known as Mt. Olive Cemetery.
The committee’s recommendation now goes before the full Atlanta City Council for consideration at its March 15 meeting.
Brandon Marshall of Stone Mountain purchased the approximately .22 acres of land about two years for $58,000, an amount that covered the taxes due on the property. When he bought the land during a tax sale on the Fulton County Courthouse steps, he didn’t know it was the site of Mt. Olive Cemetery, the final resting place for up to 110 residents and the African-American community once known as Macedonia Park.
The sale of the property has been acknowledged as a mistake by Fulton County. First, the county should not have collected taxes on a cemetery, which it did. Because it had no right to collect taxes on cemetery land in the first place, it had no right to sell the property on the courthouse steps for taxes owed and unpaid.
Once he discovered he had purchased a cemetery, Marshall tried in vain to get his money back. But county officials refused. The county sheriff can collect money from property sales, they said, but cannot refund money. And there was no other county fund that could pay Marshall back for the mistaken sale.
Marshall tried to peddle the small tract at the entrance to Frankie Allen Park to the city of Atlanta for $850,000, but the financially strapped city said no.
After those rejections, Marshall decided he needed to move the graves so he could develop the property. That led to a proposed city ordinance to allow him to move the graves. The ordinance has been under consideration for almost the past year, resulting in the public hearing before Atlanta City Council on March 8.
The application to move the graves was initially heard before the Urban Design Commission on April 22 of last year and went through five public hearings before that body recommended the application be denied.
The African-American community of Macedonia Park was thriving at Bagley Street off Pharr Road in Buckhead when, in the 1940s, residents of Garden Hills, to the south and west, and others in Fulton County decided it was unsanitary and too boisterous and should be a park instead of a community.
So, between 1945 and 1953, the residents of Macedonia Park were displaced—bought out or forced out by the use of eminent domain by Fulton County—and the land was turned into Bagley Park, named after William Bagley, a well-respected 30-year resident of the Macedonia Park community. The church cemetery is all that remains of the original neighborhood.
At the hearing March 8, Marshall claimed the cemetery has been abandoned for years and that vandals have destroyed many of the headstones. He said the graves would be better cared for in another cemetery.
But representatives of the Buckhead Historic Society and Neighborhood Planning Unit B and Elan Oglesby, a relative of Bagley’s, asked to keep the cemetery where it is in order to retain one of the last remaining parts of Buckhead’s African-American history.
“Over the years commercial developers and other interests have replaced a major part of Buckhead’s black heritage,” Buckhead Coalition President Sam Massell wrote in a March 5 letter. “It would be most unfortunate to also lose the Mt. Olive cemetery at Frankie Allen Park.”
Sally Silver reported at the hearing that the NPU-B board, of which she is a member, unanimously opposed approval of the ordinance being considered, which would allow Marshall to move the graves from the Pharr Road site.
Silver said Marshall has owned the property for two year, but he has not cut the grass. “If he has a problem with the maintenance, he should look in the mirror,” Silver said.
The Buckhead Baseball organization, which was founded at Bagley Park in 1952 and has been headquartered there since, is interested in having baseball teams provide park maintenance, Silver said. The association also could erect a marker explaining local history.
“This is a real important piece of Buckhead that will be forgotten if these graves are removed,” Silver said.