It’s never too late to right a wrong.
The Alta Vista Cemetery in Gainesville, Georgia was created in 1872 and from then until the 1950s, the bodies of 1,146 black residents were thoughtlessly buried in unmarked graves in two sections toward the back of the cemetery. Segregated in life and in death.
Alta Vista was segregated until the mid-1960s. Though there are no names, ages or birth dates on any of the gravesites memorialized this past weekend, they are believed to date from anywhere between the 1870s and the 1950s, according to the Associated Press.
But this past weekend, the unnamed people were honored by a committee of mostly black residents who unveiled a memorial to commemorate those who deaths had for decades had gone unrecognized.
What sparked the change? There was much soul searching after the racially motivated massacre of nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. City officials were inspired to publicly recognize those buried in Gainesville’s unmarked graves.
According to the Associated Press, officials used ground-penetrating radar beginning in 2015 to search for those black residents who were buried without recognition. Once officials discovered the unmarked graves, they placed numbered silver medallions on each gravesite. But, according to the Associated Press, this was not enough for community leaders who wanted something more significant that would help with healing and reconciliation.
At the ceremony, officials and organizers of the event unveiled a seven-foot, black granite obelisk and six benches placed instead of headstones to honor the interred, the Associated Press reported. On the obelisk is written, “This memorial stands as our testament that these citizens are important to this community and we embrace them as our own.” During the ceremony, small flags were placed on each gravesite to help the public see them from afar.
The committee was led by Barbara Brooks, Gainesville’s only African-American city council member. “To me, it’s an opportunity to say, ‘Okay, we don’t know who you were and we don’t know when you were here but you’re important to us,'” Brooks told NBC News. “Today it was like a great service. I think we put those souls to rest today.”